New Internationalist

‘The blood of Ethiopians cries out for justice’

Saudi Embassy protest in London [Related Image]
© Chris Matthews

Cries of ‘shame on you’ rang around Curzon Street in London on 18 November as more than 300 Ethiopians gathered outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy to protest against the treatment of migrant workers in the country.

Waving flags, singing in unison and holding placards adorned with slogans demanding action – ‘The blood of Ethiopians cries out for justice’, ‘Stop the torture’ and ‘Being poor is not a crime’ – hundreds of London’s Ethiopian diaspora crowded the usually busy west London street.

The protest, in response to Saudi authorities clampdown on migrant workers, came after several migrants, including at least two Ethiopian nationals, were killed during violent clashes with security forces in the oil-rich Gulf State last week.

Sunday 3 November saw an end to a seven-month amnesty demanding that all migrant workers without legal status in the country be deported, resulting in the mass demonstrations and riots seen across the country and in the capital Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia is home to an estimated nine million migrants workers, many from Ethiopia and neighbouring East African nations, and authorities argue that the clampdown will reduce growing unemployment levels among Saudi nationals.

However, there are widespread accusations of abuse towards migrant workers in the Kingdom, with numerous reports of murder, rape and torture against members of the foreign population.

Zelealam Tesdema, one of the organizers of the London protest, urged the Saudi Arabian government to take action and called for those responsible for such acts to be brought to justice.

‘This protest is part of a global movement to stop the brutality, the rape and the murder of migrant workers. The government needs to stop the violence and bring the security forces and authorities to justice,’ Zelealam Tesdema said.

As numbers swelled and voices became louder and more fervent, a police cordon formed in front of the protesters, barring any advances to the gates of the Saudi Arabian embassy.

Zelealam Tesdema said it was vital people had the opportunity to ‘voice their concerns’. A petition calling on the ‘Saudi government to stop the brutal and inhumane treatment’ of Ethiopians was delivered to the embassy.          

More than 23,000 Ethiopians, who were living illegally in Saudi Arabia, have now surrendered to officials there, and the Ethiopian government has already started repatriating those ordered to leave the country.

The UN Refugee Agency said that in excess of 51,000 Ethiopians have made the journey across the Gulf of Aden this year alone.

Another of the protest’s organizers, Bekele Woyecha, who has lived in London for six years, fears that many of those on return flights to the capital Addis Ababa will now be left with nothing.

‘A lot of people who left Ethiopia in the first place were doing so because of economic or political problems and so for them returning it will be difficult. These people have nothing now – the authorities in Saudi Arabia have taken everything that they have.’

In a country where labour laws are routinely abandoned and workers’ rights systematically ignored – highlighted by images of maltreatment against migrants circulating online in recent days – an environment of abuse has festered and Adam Coogle, Middle-East Researcher for Human Rights Watch, believes such malpractice is likely to continue.

‘Many migrant workers are unaware of the official rights available to them. Saudi Arabia will still be dependent on migrant workers for many years to come – the labour laws provide conditions in which abuses can take place.’

The large number of undocumented workers in the country has created a vast under-the-table economy and Coogle says that many employers have ‘complete power’ over migrant workers, often confiscating travel documents and preventing workers from changing jobs once they begin working for an employer.

And although such treatment of migrants is a problem not unique to the Arabian Peninsula, the tragic events of recent weeks have a shone an alarming light on the darkness that pervades in the country. The protest on the streets of London has helped bring awareness to the human rights violations and ongoing plight of migrant workers within the Saudi state a little more into focus.

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  1. #1 zawan 19 Nov 13

    The Saudi government declared 7 months ago that illegally smuggled foreigners have to leave the country . The second thing there many nationalities who accepted the sovereign decision of the Saudis but Ethiopians demonstrated in streets which was against the law in Saudi Arabia so the should bear the consequences .

  2. #2 Zuhayyan 19 Nov 13

    The labor policy is to correct the status of illegal workers, who smuggled into the country, rather than deporting legal, legitimate, documented foreign workers. This is a big difference. Those illegal workers have proved to be imminent danger to the society.

    For years, Ethiopians have been engaging in criminal acts, ranging from slaughtering infants and the elderly, to sexual harassment and molestation of women and children, rape, kidnapping, to armed robberies and other heinous crimes. By doing so, they are showing contempt to the authority and the people of Saudi Arabia, in addition to threatening the safety of the physical being of locals and legal foreigners alike. People do not feel safe anymore, and something has to be done.

    The government granted illegals a seven-month amnesty period to rectify their residency status without fines or penalty (no questions asked). Those who did are welcomed, and those who did not must leave, as they insisted on living in the dark to continue with their crimes without the possibility of being apprehended.

  3. #3 Josh 20 Nov 13

    Zuhayyan... you are liar like your king and fellow brothers! It's true that there are illegal migrants in Saudi but they didn't do it alone. Your brothers guarding the boarder got paid to let them in and others received ransom by keeping them hostage. You have killed, raped, tortured and abused all. In addition, many of legal immigrants have been facing the same maltreatment i.e. confiscating their documents, not paying their salary, raping, torturing and killing. These maltreatment is evidenced by the involvement of your so called princes and princesses who kill, rape and treat like the old time slaves. The government can not act illegally to solve illegal activities. By the way, the whole world knows the Saudi's are very lazy, do not have brains and inhuman people. It's their money that thinks not their brain. Remember your prophet sent your fathers to Ethiopia and we treated them very well. Read about the first Hijra. STOP abuse! STOP raping, Act like humans! Use your minds! STOP propagating false accusations about Ethiopians, the whole world knows about the good people of Ethiopia! Don't tell lies! Open your eyes and see the reality!

  4. #4 mengistu 20 Nov 13

    i am crias when tragdity

  5. #5 Eritrawi 20 Nov 13

    As an Eritrean I feel and share of the pain of those innocent Ethiopians murdered, killed and raped in the so called holy city of Saudi Arabia. A country who gave refugee the followers of Mohammed should not be treated the way the security forces and angry , brutal , criminal young Saudis treated them. I don't expect from a country who doesn't respect the elementary right of their women to respect foreigners but at the end we remember the silence of USA, Britain and other European countries silence for money , silence for special reason. Human right is not for sell, human right is universal. A country who produced Osama and world trade centre bombers and Al kaida is more welcome in USA and free of any condemnation. If this was done by Iran, or China the whole western media and politicians would give attention for it. It is just very painful when people categorized by different value.
    We shall overcome my Ethiopian friends .

  6. #6 mengistu 20 Nov 13

    i wish my freedom peace and development

  7. #7 mengistu 20 Nov 13


  8. #8 Enough 21 Nov 13

    Why shouldn't Saudi kick out illegal workers who overstayed their welcome? So what if they were treated roughly when being deported - can't do the time, don't commit the crime I say.

    The UK should have seized the opportunity to round up that rabble in Curzon Street and put them on the plane back home to Africa as well. That day will come soon enough.

  9. #9 ciderpunx 21 Nov 13

    Why shouldn't Saudi kick out illegal workers who overstayed their welcome?

    The accusation is that people have been raped, tortured and killed. It is obvious that should such claims be substantaited a breach of international human rights law has occurred and those responsible should be punished. Civilized societies don't abuse human beings whatever their legal status.

  10. #10 Lemlem Tsegaw 22 Nov 13

    Dear Sir/Madam, I thank the writer of the above article -being a voice for the voiceless Ethiopians, here is my piece to add to the cry:

    For How Long…,To Whom Can We Appeal?

    who are these
    what is
    their charge
    being oppressed
    has been
    their faith
    no government
    to represent
    to appeal
    their case
    just because
    they are Ethiopians
    O God
    for how long
    are we to suffer
    for bread and butter
    who is there
    that plead
    their case
    no government
    to defend
    their human right
    for how long
    are Ethiopians
    to be raped
    no place
    to call home
    no wealth
    to pay off their debt
    O God
    to whom
    can we appeal

    © Lemlem Tsegaw, November 12, 2013
    to all Ethiopians who are suffering in Saudi Arabia

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