ADDIS ABABA – Saudi Arabia urged to suspend the deportation of Ethiopian migrants as their number has burdened Ethiopia’s coronavirus response.
Riyadh is stepping up the deportation Ethiopians, including some who are suspected of suffering from coronavirus.
A total of 2,968 migrants were returned in the first 10 days of April, reported Financial Times, quoting a UN official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“This is simply not the moment for mass deportations from a public health perspective,” Catherine Sozi, UN humanitarian coordinator for Ethiopia, told the daily newspaper, adding that the mass deportations, without any pre-departure medical screening, are likely to exacerbate the spread of COVID-19 to the region and beyond.
A Saudi Arabia official defended the move saying it was not conducting forced repatriations but was coordinating with countries if migrants wanted to return home.
The UN has called for a temporary suspension of the deportations to give Ethiopian authorities time to plan properly for the migrants’ safe repatriation.
Addis Ababa could not be expected to cope with the sheer number of deportations, Sozi said. Ethiopia too has reportedly requested that the deportations stop during the coronavirus crisis.
The incoming migrants are being taken to four quarantine centers in Addis Ababa in converted university buildings and schools.
But officials who have been processing the migrants warn that conditions are becoming dangerously overcrowded and that the situation is reaching crisis point.
The United Nations said the Ethiopian government recently asked for a moratorium on deportations to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Saudi Arabia had, if anything, stepped up repatriations in recent days, UN officials said.
“Ethiopia’s ability to respond is stretched to the limit,” said one person with direct knowledge of the deportations. “But everybody is scared of talking about what’s going on. No one wants to be on the wrong side of Saudi Arabia.”
Image: Ethiopian immigrants returning from Saudi Arabia arrive at Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport in this December 10, 2013 photo. (Photo File/AFP)