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Saudi Arabia 'holding 16,000 Ethiopian migrants' in single detention centre: Report

Ethiopia's consul general in Jeddah says migrants are being held in all city's jails, with one facility holding 16,000 people
Thousands of Ethiopians have made the dangerous journey through Yemen into Saudi Arabia to seek employment.
Thousands of Ethiopians made dangerous journey through Yemen into Saudi Arabia to seek employment (AFP/File photo)

Dozens of prisons in Saudi Arabia are holding thousands of Ethiopian migrants, with one facility housing as many as 16,000 people, Ethiopia's consul general in Jeddah said.

The Daily Telegraph reported on Tuesday that the crowded centre is in al-Shumaisi, near the Muslim holy city of Mecca, according to Consul General Abdo Yassin.

"Jeddah has over 53 prisons. Ethiopians are held in every one of them," Yassin told the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation.

"If you take the one at Al Shumaisi… located around 60km from Jeddah, there are about 16,000 Ethiopians kept in the prison and the holding cells."

Recent media reports have detailed the alleged conditions African migrants have endured in Saudi Arabia as the kingdom attempts to control its coronavirus outbreak.

Last month, The Sunday Telegraph revealed conditions at a number of migrant detention centres in the country, where people are dying of heatstroke, disease, and suicide.

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The Telegraph communicated with detainees at centres in al-Shumaisi and Jazan, a port city where satellite images show dozens of buildings being used as detention centres.

Migrants who spoke to the newspaper using smuggled phones, alleging poor living conditions, and rampant beatings and suicide.

After their accounts were published, the migrants said they were stripped naked and beaten by prison guards while their rooms were raided for smuggled phones, according to the newspaper.

Despite the conditions, Ethiopia's government previously said it was "thankful" to Saudia Arabia for accepting migrants entering the country.

Hundreds of thousands of people from Ethiopia and other Horn of Africa countries have made the dangerous journey through Yemen into Saudi Arabia and other rich Gulf countries seeking employment. Many have been sent home.

While Saudi Arabia has promised to launch an investigation into the allegations amid pressure from the UN and human rights groups, Ethiopian authorities warned the migrants of legal repercussions if they continued to raise awareness about their conditions.

In August, a document showed that Riyadh and Addis Ababa had agreed to allow migrants to purchase their own tickets from Ethiopian Airlines for their return home - an unaffordable prospect for most of the migrants.

On Monday, Saudi Arabia cancelled the agreement, effectively leaving the detained Ethiopians with no route out of the kingdom.