Ethiopians abused along the Gulf migration route

Smuggling and trafficking networks continue to exploit Ethiopian irregular migrants who undertake the dangerous journey by boat across the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on 15 August. The organisation added that those migrants who reach Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States often face harsh imprisonment before being deported.

After interviews with 12 Ethiopians who were deported from Saudi Arabia, HRW said that irregular migrants face torture, exploitation, deportation and even death while heading to and arriving in Saudi Arabia.

Eleven of the 12 deportees interviewed had been involved in smuggling and trafficking networks, which are active across the region. The twelfth deportee had been working in Saudi Arabia legally but was arrested and forced to leave after trying to harbour his sister who arrived illegally.

According to HRW, migrants face exploitation and abuse on the entire route: from the perilous boat journey to Yemen, to crossing the border and facing abuse and detention in Saudi Arabia, to being deported with no money and lack of prospects for the future.

The interviewees told HRW that smugglers and traffickers in Yemen often used violence or threats to extort ransom money from migrants’ family members or contacts. They said the Gulf of Aden or the Red Sea crossing to reach Yemen is “life-threatening”, as most migrants find themselves overcrowded in unsafe boats with no food and water. One migrant said he saw smugglers throw migrants into the sea.

“There were 180 people on the boat, but 25 died,” one man said. “The boat was in trouble and the waves were hitting it. It was overloaded and about to sink so the dallalas [an adaptation of the Arabic word for “middleman” or “broker”] picked some out and threw them into the sea, around 25.”

This is not the first case of smugglers intentionally killing migrants when faced with dangerous conditions at sea.

After arriving in Yemen, migrants risk kidnapping and beatings, and are often asked for extra payments to cross the Yemen-Saudi border. Given the ongoing clashes in Yemen and Saudi border guards who fire on irregular migrants attempting to cross the border, many people end up dead.

Interviewees told HRW that they saw dead bodies along the crossing routes. “At the border, there are many bodies rotting, decomposing,” a 26-year-old man said. “It is like a graveyard.”

Human Rights Watch’s senior Africa researcher Felix Horne said: “Many Ethiopians who hoped for a better life in Saudi Arabia face unspeakable dangers along the journey, including death at sea, torture, and all manners of abuses.”

HRW also stated its concern by saying that Ethiopian, Yemeni and Saudi officials have taken few, if any, “measures to curb violence migrants face, to put in place asylum procedures, or to check abuses perpetrated by their own security forces.”

Between May 2017 and March 2019, over half of the more than 500,000 Ethiopians living in Saudi Arabia were deported for entering and working in the country illegally, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). 

TMP – 30/08/2019

Photo credit: Human Rights Watch

Photo caption: Migration routes between Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia