Tigrayans: from Saudi Detention Centers to Ethiopia’s Concentration Camps

Ethiopia recently repatriated more than 10 thousand Ethiopians from Saudi Arabia. While this was a relief to many Ethiopians, for Tigrayans it has become a journey from the frying pan into the fire. The first Tigrayans to arrive were separated and detained in Addis Abeba’s Golan areas immediately on their arrival. No one knows about the conditions and whereabouts of these people.

Those who arrived on 8 July 2021 and some who were able to escape the detention in Addis tried to go to Tigray via Afar. Unfortunately, they were blocked at the checkpoint at Serdo, Afar. They were then forced to stay at hotel rooms in Semera and Logia towns in Afar. They were hoping the road would open soon and they would be allowed to travel. But that did not happen. What happened instead was unexpected and very sinister.

Federal and Afar police started raiding their hotel rooms, beating them, confiscating their property and money, and detaining them without any reason. Many eyewitnesses told Tghat that police stormed into their rooms at 1 AM, while they were sleeping. They gathered them around Semera Stadium without food, shelter, and water. An estimated five hundred people who were detained in the first raids were taken to SNNP concentration camps. Another five hundred people are still inside what they have been told is a Red Cross Compound near Semera Stadium. But they said that the woman who was said to be a representative of the Red Cross only visited them once and that she told them at that time that this was beyond Red Cross and that there was not anything she could do.

Some witnesses noted they have been there for seven days and have not received a single meal nor were they given any water. Those who had some little money have been forced to call Bajaj (tuk tuk’s) taxis and to order food at almost double the normal prices, just to survive. But even this is severely limited by the security people that are keeping watch on them. They hit them at the entrance when they try to receive food.

Eyewitnesses told Tghat there is hunger, thirst, and suffering. Many that have been beaten need treatment, but there is no chance of that. About 150 of the detainees are females. There are also people with children and old people, but the vast majority are young males. The only crime they have been told is that they are supporters of the ‘junta’. One witness who managed to speak to Tghat using a smuggled phone told us:

“We don’t know what our crime is and what they are going to do to us”

Together with the Saudi returnees are also other Tigrayans rounded up from the streets and their homes. At first, there were also people from Amhara and other regions that were detained during the raids, but these were later released when they were able to confirm that they were not Tigrayan, said eyewitnesses.

An NGO worker in Semera informed Tghat that Tigrayan businesses have been shut down and their owners have been imprisoned. He said that he is only able to leave his compound only in the car with NGO tags. He noted that:

“It is dangerous to step out if you are Tigrayan. You will be rounded up like the multitudes of Tigrayans”

Similarly, Tigrayans across Ethiopia are being rounded up and transported to concentration camps across the country. Below is leaked footage from Shiro Meda, Addis Abeba.

The person speaking using a smuggled phone says there are about 2000 detainees in this camp, that they were first told they were being taken to the Red Cross but were later told it is a government facility. He also says there are about 150 female detainees and that they are being told that they will be taken to work in food preparation for the Ethiopian army. This would be involuntary, forced labor.

Although the exact number of Tigrayans detained – estimated to be in the many thousands – is yet unknown Axumite Media has produced an incomplete list of detained Tigrayans. Many Tigrayans rounded up from Addis Abeba have ended up in Awash Arba, a sprawling and sweltering concentration camp in the Afar region.

Following the capture of Mekelle by TDF, the Abiy regime resorted to laying siege to Tigray and took the war to Tigrayans outside Tigray. Thousands of Tigrayans have been rounded up and hundreds of Tigrayan businesses have been forcibly closed. There are active efforts to dispossess Tigrayans through illegal confiscation of properties and extortion by using formal and informal police. One common method that is being deployed is anyone – with formal and informal connection to government authorities – to detain Tigrayans and demand up to 50,000 birr from ordinary Tigrayans and millions from Tigrayan business owners. The money is paid without a receipt and it is unclear if it is divided amongst security personnel in charge of the arrests or if it somehow makes it government coffers.

Following the capture of Mekelle by TDF, the Abiy regime resorted to siege in Tigray and took the war to Tigrayans outside Tigray. Thousands of Tigrayans have been rounded up and hundreds of Tigrayan businesses have been forcibly closed. There is an outsourcing of the confiscation of Tigrayan money using formal and informal police. One method is for anyone to detain a Tigrayan and demand up to 50,000 from ordinary Tigrayans and millions from Tigrayan business owners. The money is paid without receipt and is divided among the security persons that detain the Tigrayans.

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