Saudi Arabia: Migrants Held in Inhuman, Degrading Conditions
Detained Migrants Allege Torture, Killing in Detention, Fears of Covid-19
(Beirut) – (hrw)—A deportation center in Riyadh is holding hundreds of mostly Ethiopian migrant workers in conditions so degrading that they amount to ill-treatment, Human Rights Watch said today. Detainees alleged to Human Rights Watch that they are held in extremely overcrowded rooms for extended periods, and that guards have tortured and beaten them with rubber-coated metal rods, leading to at least three allegations of deaths in custody between October and November. The Saudi authorities should immediately release the most vulnerable detainees and ensure that detention is only used as an exceptional measure of last resort. It should immediately end any torture and other ill-treatment, and ensure that detention conditions meet international standards.
“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 Human Rights Watch. “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.”
In November 2020 Human Rights Watch spoke by telephone with seven Ethiopian migrants detained in a deportation center in Riyadh, and with two Indian men who were detained in the same facility before they were deported. The majority of detainees were arrested and detained by the authorities because they did not hold valid residency permits.
All interviewees said the Saudi authorities kept them in cramped, unsanitary rooms with up to 350 other migrants for months on end. Two men have been in detention for over a year. Detainees explained they do not have enough room to all lie down, so some sleep during the day and others at night. Guards have not provided mattresses, just unclean blankets. Photo images and video corroborated the witness accounts, including two videos showing hundreds of men either standing or lying on top of each other in a crowded room with piles of rubbish and debris in the corner.
Despite being in the middle of a global health pandemic, detainees described how overcrowding has made social distancing and hygienic living impossible. Interviewees said guards took their temperature at the outset of their detention, but no other measures are in place to minimize the spread of Covid-19. Migrants said they shared between two to five toilets with 350 other detainees. The detainees said they had no access to shower facilities and no soap has been distributed. Detainees use the water from faucets above squat toilets for bathing.
Many migrants who spoke to Human Rights Watch said that contracting Covid-19 is their major concern, as they have observed other detainees showing Covid-19 symptoms. The Saudi authorities in the deportation center have apparently taken no special measures to protect groups at higher risk, such as older inmates and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Video footage received and analyzed by Human Rights Watch depicts a South Asian man in the corner of a crowded detention room, visibly emaciated and unwell.