A document leaked to The Telegraph shows that the Ethiopian government tried to silence hundreds of its own citizens stuck in hellish detention centres in Saudi Arabia and cover-up allegations of horrendous abuse.
The official document, which bears the stamp of the Ethiopian consulate in the city of Jeddah, warned Ethiopians of “legal repercussions” if they continued to upload photos and videos from the detention centres on social media.
The statement warned migrants to stop sharing their accounts of the horrific conditions because it was causing “distress for families and the greater Ethiopian community.”
The damning revelations come after an investigation by The Sunday Telegraph revealed that Saudi Arabia is keeping hundreds if not thousands of African migrants locked in detention centres flooded with raw sewage as part of a drive to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Conditions in the centres are so bad that people are dying of heatstroke, disease or by suicide. Images sent to The Telegraph on encrypted channels have been shared around the world and compared to slave camps.
Saudi Arabia and the United Nations say they have launched investigations into detention centres since the investigation was published on Sunday.
Earlier this week, Ethiopia’s Minister for Diaspora Affairs told The Telegraph that the first time the government had heard of the conditions in the centres was from the investigation.
However, the leaked document proves that the government was aware of the conditions inside the centres months ago.
The document is dated 24 June 2020 (Sene 17, 2012 in the Ethiopian calendar), meaning that Ethiopia’s foreign ministry was aware of the conditions at least two months before The Telegraph investigation was published.
It is believed the Ethiopian foreign ministry has been engaging in a cover-up to avoid a damaging diplomatic fallout with oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which is a major source of foreign exchange and investment for the Horn of Africa nation.
When The Telegraph asked Abdo Yassin, Ethiopia’s Consul General in Jeddah, about the document, he responded: “You are not aware of what we deal with on a daily basis here."
Mr Yassin claimed that prisoners had grown violent, attacked Saudi prison guards and attempted to escape on multiple occasions. However, photos and videos of the migrants show they are emaciated, suffering from heatstroke, disfiguring facial skin infections and barely able to move.
Mr Yassin also claimed that he had liaison officers at the detention centres where the Ethiopians have been kept for months on end.
But the Consul General claimed he had not heard any reports of abuse, even though his office warned the migrants in June to stop sharing disturbing footage.
The Consul General also refused to commit to a timetable to repatriate the migrants in the Al Shumaisi and Jazan centres, which the Telegraph was able to geolocate.
There are believed to be other detention centres where migrants have not been able to smuggle in phones past prison guards to communicate.
Earlier this week, the Saudi embassy in London made the astonishing claim that it was the Ethiopian government that was unwilling to repatriate its citizens, citing Covid-19 concerns.
"We believe there are about 20,000 Ethiopian immigrants who recently crossed the border into Saudi via Yemen and their repatriation is being negotiated with the Ethiopian government," it said.
“Sadly, the Ethiopian authorities have refused their re-entry under the claim of not being able to provide adequate quarantine facilities upon their arrival.”
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