A frame of the video showing the degrading conditions in which dozens of Ethiopian migrants are detained in a deportation center in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia | Credit: Website Human Rights Watch
A frame of the video showing the degrading conditions in which dozens of Ethiopian migrants are detained in a deportation center in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia | Credit: Website Human Rights Watch

The organization Human Rights Watch has denounced that a "deportation center in Riyadh is holding hundreds of mostly Ethiopian migrant workers in conditions so degrading that they amount to ill treatment." In a statement published on December 15, Human Rights Watch asked Saudi authorities to end detention, abuse and torture.

Hundreds of mostly Ethiopian migrant workers are held in a deportation center in Riyadh "in conditions so degrading that they amount to ill treatment," Human Rights Watch said in a statement published on December 15.

Detainees told the organization that they were held in extremely overcrowded rooms for extended periods and that guards tortured and beat 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," Human Rights Watch said.

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

Migrants' reports

Human Rights Watch said that in November this year, members of the organization spoke by phone 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," it said.

"All interviewees said the Saudi authorities kept them in cramped, unsanitary rooms with up to 350 other migrants for months on end," Human Rights Watch said.

The organization went on to say that 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.

Many migrants who spoke to Human Rights Watch said that contracting COVID-19 was their major concern because they observed other detainees showing coronavirus symptoms.

All interviewees said the guards had either assaulted them or they had witnessed guards beating other detainees with rubber-coated rods.

Migrants also spoke about verbal abuse, including racial slurs, threats and frequent swearing.

Appeal to end abuse

"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."

"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," Hardman said.

"Governments with nationals inside the facility should pressure the authorities and do all they can to facilitate voluntary repatriation."

 

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