Thousands of Ethiopian refugees held for ransom in Saudi Arabia

March 18, 2012 — Thousands of Ethiopian refugees are being held captive for ransom in the border regions of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, according to Mohammed Najad, a Yemeni security official.

Making the situation worse are Saudi news channels who have aired a series of documentaries in late February that depict Ethiopian refugees as gangs involved in illicit activities.

As a result, many Saudis and Yemeni vigilante groups have sprung up near their common border, under the guise of defending their territories but in reality, most are there to take Ethiopian migrants captive for ransom.

Fleeing from economic hardship and a repressive dictatorship in Ethiopia, the Middle East is seen as a place where young Ethiopians can earn a higher standard of living to support their families back home.

Despite the dangerous risks involved, over 84,000 Ethiopian refugees cross the traitorous waters of the Gulf of Aden each year, according to the United Nation’s refugee agency.

Once in Yemen, most Ethiopians head straight for the Yemeni-Saudi border, where bandits, vigilantes, and smugglers frequently hold migrants captive and demand thousands of dollars in ransom for their release.

A recent report by UNHCR reveals thousands of Ethiopian men, women and children are being held captive for extortion on both sides of the Yemeni-Saudi border by armed criminal gangs and vigilantes.

The gangs use rape and torture against their victims to make their families pay for their release. Those who fail to have their ransom paid are killed and their organs harvested for sale on the black market.

“It was horrible. If your ransom wasn't paid, they tortured and raped you,” recounted one of the victims, who requested anonymity. “I am lucky I was able to flee. My friends who came with me were killed."

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