Human Rights Watch is urging the Saudi government to halt its plan to expel hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian immigrants who missed a late August deadline to register or face deportation.
Felix Horne, HRW’s senior researcher for the Horn of Africa, says the immigrants have a legitimate concern of being imprisoned or worse if they return to their home country.
“They say that they will be killed, arrested and tortured by the government they fled from," Horne told VOA's Horn of Africa Service. "If you are an individual who is fleeing [a] repression system, scared to return to the country of origin, you would be entitled to international protection,” he says.
An estimated 400,000 to 500,000 Ethiopians currently reside in Saudi Arabia, only a fraction of whom have registered their presence with the government.
The country has long been a destination of Ethiopians fleeing repression at home. The HRW report says that tens of thousands of Ethiopians have arrived there since November 2015, the start of a year of bloody anti-government protests in Ethiopia's Oromia region.
Saudi Arabia last deported large numbers of Ethiopians in 2013. Horne says a number of them were arrested upon their return or soon after. "Some of them reported torture in detention," Horne says.
This year, there has been no large-scale roundup as of yet. Mohamed, an Ethiopian national living in Riyadh, says he thinks the Saudi government is waiting for the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage to start the deportations. The pilgrimage ended on Sunday.
"After the deadline [in past years], the police usually come during nightfall, cracking down on the immigrants, and even in the daytime, at the bus stop, at work, and anywhere," he tells VOA