Saudi Arab

Saudi Arabia holds hundreds of African migrants in appalling conditions: HRW

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Saudi Arabia has held in a deportation center hundreds of mostly Ethiopian migrant workers in “appalling” conditions, calling for their immediate release.

The New York-based organization said in a report on Tuesday that a deportation center in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh is “holding hundreds of mostly Ethiopian migrant workers in conditions so degrading that they amount to ill-treatment.”

Warning about the inhuman conditions of the deportation center, the HRW said the migrants are held in “extremely overcrowded rooms for extended periods,” and that guards have tortured and beaten them with rubber-coated metal rods.

The report added that at least three people had died in custody since October.

“Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s richest countries, has no excuse for detaining migrant workers in appalling conditions, in the middle of a health pandemic, for months on end,” said Nadia Hardman, refugee and migrant rights researcher at the HRW.

“Video footage of people crammed together, allegations of torture, and unlawful killings are shocking, as is the apparent unwillingness of the authorities to do anything to investigate conditions of abuse and hold those responsible to account,” she added.

The HRW quoted detainees as saying that some of them had been infected with the coronavirus but no measures were taken to control the spread of the disease.

“The Saudi authorities should immediately release the most vulnerable detainees and ensure that detention is only used as an exceptional measure of last resort,” New York-based organization concluded.

“It should immediately end any torture and other ill-treatment, and ensure that detention conditions meet international standards.”

The migrants at the center, mostly from Ethiopia but also from other African or Asian countries, were arrested and pending deportation amid the coronavirus pandemic, with Saudi authorities claiming that the migrants had no valid residency permits.

“Saudi Arabia should act fast to end the abusive conditions in the Riyadh deportation center and contain the potential of a devastating outbreak of Covid-19. Governments with nationals inside the facility should pressure the authorities and do all they can to facilitate voluntary repatriation,” Hardman underlined.

Foreign workers account for some 12.6 million of Saudi Arabia’s total population of 33.4 million, according to the latest available government data from 2018, with several million others living in the kingdom outside the law.

The detention of migrants in deplorable facilities in Saudi Arabia has been a longstanding issue.

In 2014, Ethiopian nationals in Riyadh told the HRW that thousands of foreign workers were being held in makeshift detention facilities without adequate food and shelter, before being deported.

In 2019, the New York-based organization identified approximately ten prisons and detention centers in the ultra-conservative kingdom where migrants were held for various periods.

In August, Human Rights Watch identified three detention centers in the provinces of Jizan and Jeddah where thousands of Ethiopian migrants were being held in deplorable conditions since they were pushed from northern Yemen in April.

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