Ethiopians back from Saudi recall beatings, robbery, jail

Ethiopians back from Saudi recall beatings, robbery, jail

ADDIS ABABA - When Abdallah Awele moved to Saudi Arabia from Ethiopia last year, he thought he would land a good job and earn enough money to send home to his family.

But instead, Abdallah, 21, said he was beaten, robbed and jailed for living in the country illegally.

"I wanted a good salary and a good life, that's why I crossed the border," he said.

"When I was in Saudi Arabia, I was successful, I was saving a lot of money and I had nice things. But I lost all of it. Now I am home and I won't go back there."

Abdallah was one of at least 23,000 Ethiopians living illegally in Saudi Arabia, and part of a group of close to 400 flown home on Friday after being expelled.

According to Ethiopian officials, three of their nationals were killed this month in clashes with Saudi police as the clampdown - set in motion after a seven-month amnesty period expired - got under way.

"I had 3,500 Saudi Arabian riyals (S$1,200). We were taken to prison, I lost my luggage, and all of my money was collected by the police," Abdallah said.

"Even my shoes were collected by the police," he said, speaking barefoot after leaving the airport with about 30 other men.

Abdullah, who had a job guarding animals, was jailed for six months - during which he said he was denied food and medical help.

"There is a lot of unhappiness in there," he said, showing off scars on the back of his neck.

Facing limited job prospects and harsh economic realities back home, large numbers of Ethiopian men and women head to the oil- and gas-rich Arabian peninsula every year seeking work.

The International Labour Organisation said many face physical and mental abuse, menial pay, discrimination and poor working conditions, and the Ethiopian government announced last month it was banning domestic workers from travelling to the Middle East to look for jobs after widespread reports of mistreatment.

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