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Thousands of ethnic Tigrayans deported from Saudi Arabia have been “detained, mistreated, and forcibly disappeared” in Ethiopia, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says in a new report.

It says Tigrayans who have experienced horrific abuse as undocumented migrants in Saudi custody were locked up in detention facilities after being forcibly returned to Ethiopia.

The deportations and the subsequent abuse happened as the government forces fought against Tigrayan rebels in the war that began in November 2020.

Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians have migrated to Saudi Arabia searching for work over the years and many end up being held for various periods in overcrowded, unsanitary, and abusive conditions.

Tens of thousands were repatriated last year in an agreement between the two countries, with ethnic Tigrayans comprising 40% of the returnees between December 2020 and June last year.

Ethnic Tigrayans were singled out and held in the capital Addis Ababa and elsewhere against their will, according to to HRW.

“Ethiopian authorities are persecuting Tigrayans deported from Saudi Arabia by wrongfully detaining and forcibly disappearing them,” said Nadia Hardman, a refugee and migrant rights researcher at HRW.

The Ethiopian government has previously denied targeting Tigrayans on the basis of their ethnicity.

Some of the Tigrayans suffered physical abuse, including beatings with rubber or wooden rods, the HRW report 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,” Ms Hardman added.

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