Ethiopia’s government has dismissed a Human Rights Watch report that says authorities illegally detained, abused, and caused the forced disappearance of thousands of ethnic Tigrayans repatriated from Saudi Arabia.
Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday lashed out at the Human Rights Watch report that accuses the state of targeting ethnic Tigrayans recently repatriated from Saudi Arabia.
The rights group’s report accused authorities of detaining, abusing, and causing thousands of Tigrayans to effectively vanish in a sweep against illegal migrants.
Ministry spokesman Dina Mufti called the report unsubstantiated and an irresponsible move that aimed to discredit the government’s efforts to help citizens returned by Saudi authorities.
“We have repatriated more than 40,000 Ethiopians from Saudi Arabia in just a couple of months regardless of which ethnic group that they belong to,” Mufit said, according to a transcript of the briefing.
Ethiopia in January 2021 announced it had agreed with Saudi Arabia to repatriate 40,000 of its citizens detained in the country at a rate of 1,000 per day.
Human Rights Watch’s report Wednesday said 40% of returnees from November 2020 to June 2021 were Tigrayan.
The report said from June to July Saudi Arabia deported more than 30,000 Ethiopian citizens just as authorities were targeting ethnic Tigrayans.
The group’s refugee and migrant rights researcher Nadia Hardman said the Tigrayan returnees were detained in various parts of Ethiopia, beaten, and subjected to forced labor.
“Ethiopian authorities are persecuting Tigrayans deported from Saudi Arabia by wrongfully detaining and forcibly disappearing them,” 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.”
The rights group also called on Ethiopian authorities to immediately release detained migrants and to stop profiling ethnic Tigrayans.
The report was based on interviews Human Rights Watch conducted with 23 alleged victims of the abuse.
Since the war broke out in November 2020 between Ethiopian federal authorities and those in the Tigray region, the government has denied discriminating against or targeting ethnic Tigrayans.
But reports from inside Ethiopia indicate authorities have subjected ethnic Tigrayans to arbitrary detentions, dismissal from official positions, and travel restrictions.
Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu told the Reuters news agency there were no ethnic-based prison facilities or places for deportees from other countries.
But he acknowledged many Ethiopians were detained on suspicion of aiding what he called terrorists, the Ethiopian government's term for the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front. The TPLF have long ruled the Tigray region and ran the federal government for three decades until they were ousted from power in 2018.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mufti on Thursday said Ethiopia plans to send a committee of officials, religious leaders, and other stakeholders to Saudi Arabia to discuss measures for its citizens who remain in detention.
Some information for this report came from Reuters.