An Ethiopian official believes approximately 16,000 migrants are being held in a Saudi Arabian detention center near Mecca.
Ethiopian Consul General Abdo Yassin made the stunning estimation last week during an interview with the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation.
“Jeddah has over 53 prisons. Ethiopians are held in every one of them,” Yassin said. “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.”
Yassin’s commentary came after the Telegraph published an expose featuring interviews from Ethiopian detainees. The migrants were able to speak to the British publication through smuggled cellphones.
The victims claim they are barely fed and are forced to live in filth.
“We eat a tiny piece of bread in the day and rice in the evening. There’s almost no water, and the toilets are overflowing. It spills over to where we eat,” one man told The Telegraph. “The smell, we grow accustomed to. But there’s over a hundred of us in a room, and the heat is killing us.”
Many of them have been in the center since April. When the COVID-19 pandemic started in March, Saudi officials became concerned about Ethiopians spreading the disease since they often lived in crowded areas.
The Saudi Arabian government deported 3,000 people in early April and were preparing to get rid of 200,000 more before international pressure caused a moratorium. The detention centers were their next solution.
The migrants also used the phone to take pictures of the squalid conditions they live in. The photos show dozens of emaciated men packed into a small room and bruises on two men’s backs. The trauma has resulted in death, some from suicide and others from disease and heat stroke.
“It’s hell in here. We are treated like animals and beaten every day,” said a man identified as Abebe. “If I see that there is no escape, I will take my own life. Others have already. My only crime is leaving my country in search of a better life. But they beat us with whips and electric cords as if we were murderers.”
The Ethiopian government began repatriating people in early September. Reuters reports they hope to bring home 2000 people, mostly women and children, by mid-October. However, government officials reportedly tried to prevent the migrants from speaking out about their plight, per The Telegraph. Additionally, some migrants claim they have been subjected to strip searches and beating since the abuse was publicized.