Beaten, abused; Ethiopia detained, abused Tigrayans deported from Saudi, reports Human Rights Watch
During the conflict in their northern homeland, the Tigrayans appear to have been caught up both in a harsh expulsion programme by Riyadh and in a crackdown by Ethiopia's government
Thousands of ethnic Tigrayans have been detained in Ethiopia after being deported from Saudi Arabia, suffering atrocious conditions and brutal treatment from guards in both countries, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.
As per the New York-based rights group, Tigrayans in Ethiopia have been subjected to repeated abuses, including being beaten with rubber or wooden rods, deprived of access to their families, forced to pick coffee for free, and denied food and water.
During the conflict in their northern homeland, the Tigrayans appear to have been caught up both in a harsh expulsion programme by Riyadh and in a crackdown by Ethiopia's government.
Saudi Arabia detained them mostly for irregular immigration status, where detainees also reported being beaten, stripped naked, and forced to endure freezing temperatures and insufficient space to sleep, according to the report.
"Ethiopian authorities are persecuting Tigrayans deported from Saudi Arabia by wrongfully detaining and forcibly disappearing them," HRW researcher Nadia Hardman said. "Saudi Arabia should stop contributing to this abuse by ending the forced return of Tigrayans to Ethiopia and allowing them to seek asylum or resettlement in third countries."
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government, which has been fighting the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) since late 2020, denies discrimination against Tigrayans.
"There are no ethnic-based prison facilities or places for deportees from other countries," said spokesperson Legesse Tulu while speaking to news agency Reuters.
According to him, the report was inaccurate, unsupported by evidence, and based on people working for TPLF.
Under the state of emergency, he said, many Ethiopians have been detained on suspicion of aiding "terrorists" - the government's term for the TPLF, a long-time Tigrayan power that dominated national politics before Abiy's rule.
Human Rights Watch spoke with detainees at five centres around Ethiopia who estimated that hundreds of people were held in each.
Trhas, 33, a deported Saudi Arabian in December 2020, said she was held with 700 other deportees and put on a bus.
"We asked the federal police for food and water and the toilet, but we were beaten if we left our seats. They said, 'Bandits don’t need food'," HRW quoted her as saying.
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According to federal police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi, he was not aware of returnees being arrested in such circumstances.
As per Reuters, another Tigrayan living in the capital, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid retribution, told them that 3 of his relatives were deported from Saudi Arabia in July. They were initially registered with the Ethiopian Red Cross on arrival, but they were arrested at home on November 2, after a state of emergency was declared, he added.