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Thursday, 8 October 2020 - Brussels Revised edition

The situation of Ethiopian migrants in detention centres in Saudi Arabia

  Dubravka Šuica, Vice-President of the Commission. – Madam President, my colleagues High Representative Borrell and Commissioner Lenarčič are travelling to Addis Ababa with the last EU humanitarian air bridge flight.

This humanitarian air bridge flight is very specific in its nature as it aims at bringing support to the African Union and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to be further distributed in African countries. It will be the third and last shipment to Addis, the most significant one, and also the last humanitarian air bridge flight organised by the European Union jointly with Germany.

Besides the COVID—19 component, the joint visit to Addis is extremely timely. Regarding the African Union, it will be an opportunity to keep the momentum of a strengthened European Union-African Union partnership despite the postponement of the summit. With Ethiopian partners, it will be an opportunity to express our concerns over the political situation in the run—up to the elections.

We have seen the shocking reports about African migrants, mainly Ethiopians, reportedly held under dreadful conditions in detention centres in Saudi Arabia. We also understand that earlier this week, eight Ethiopians died and 12 went missing off the coast of Djibouti after failing to reach Yemen. We knew already that the conflict in Yemen has created the world’s gravest humanitarian crisis. However, what we are discussing today shows that it also makes the situation of many migrants in the region close to unbearable.

Despite the conflict, migration continues. The conflict in Yemen provides a fertile breeding ground for trafficking and smuggling networks, which profit from desperate African citizens looking for a better life in the Gulf. We are taking this situation seriously, and are following up and helping where we can. The EU delegation in Riyadh has raised the conditions in detention centres with the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Labour rights and migration management are indeed issues we want to discuss more regularly with our Saudi interlocutors.

There are indeed things to be said. Last week, High Representative Borrell received the Saudi Foreign Minister and reaffirmed the European Union’s interest in a structured human rights dialogue in which migration features prominently. We hope to launch this dialogue soon.

We are also reinforcing our engagement with the countries of origin in the Horn of Africa. Today, the High Representative and Commissioner Lenarčič are in Ethiopia. They will visit an International Organization for Migration transit centre where Ethiopian deportees, including from the Gulf, are quarantined upon arrival.

We have recently provided EUR 60 million to the Horn of Africa Intergovernmental Authority (IGAD) to address the impact of COVID—19. This aid will also benefit migrants. We are eager to encourage a region—to—region dialogue on migration management between the Horn and the Gulf, as proposed by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. We also hope that the soon—to—be—launched Red Sea Council can provide a platform for this.

More broadly, in our external action we are committed to, and indeed an advocate for, the protection of the human rights of all migrants. The recently adopted EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020—2024 calls for the protection of migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons. It also calls for support measures to improve integration and access to basic services. In our times of COVID—19 this is, of course, even more important. In third countries we strive to have migrants and forcibly displaced persons benefit from healthcare systems and include these groups in strategies related to COVID—19.

Last updated: 8 December 2020Legal notice - Privacy policy