Although the UN urged Saudi Arabia to cease deportations in April, Riyadh has continued the practice throughout the pandemic. Since March, 2,870 Ethiopian migrant workers have been deported and Ethiopian officials have reported that as of the end of July, some 927 of these deportees were infected with the virus (although the true number is believed to be much higher.) In a country that has ill-equipped medical facilities and few medical resources in rural areas, the high numbers of cases amongst deportees is raising significant concerns. (For more on Saudi’s deportations, see 14 April update.)
Many of those deported have previously been held in overcrowded facilities such as Al Shumaysi Detention Centre–an enormous complex that can hold up to 32,000 persons. Detainees in this facility are held in bunk-bed filled halls, which confine up to 80 persons. As one detainee reported to the Guardian, “We are packed as animals. We sleep on metal beds with no mattress, no proper sanitation. … We drink water from the toilet If you have money you can buy clean water. If you don’t have any, you just take dirty water from the toilet.” Noting the dangers that squalid conditions such as these can pose on confined populations, Human Rights Watch has urged Saudi authorities to release detainees and take steps to reform its detention policies.
In June, the country’s Interior Ministry announced that migrant workers found violating quarantine restrictions in the country (such as gathering in groups of more than five persons) would face fines of up to 200,000 SAR (approximately 53,000 USD), deportation, and a life-long re-entry ban.
- New York Times, “Ethiopian Workers are Forced to Return Home, Some with Coronavirus,” 1 August 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/01/world/africa/ethiopian-migrant-workers-coronavirus.html
- The Guardian, “‘We Drink From the Toilet:’ Migrants Tell of Hellish Saudi Detention Centres,” 4 August 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/aug/04/we-drink-from-the-toilet-migrants-tell-of-hellish-saudi-detention-centres
- Human Rights Watch, “Gulf States: Ease Immigration Detention in Pandemic,” 7 April 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/07/gulf-states-ease-immigration-detention-pandemic
- Al-Arabiya, “Coronavirus in Saudi Arabia: Deportation, Fines of up to $53,000 for workers’ gatherings,” 17 June 2020, https://english.alarabiya.net/en/coronavirus/2020/06/17/Coronavirus-in-Saudi-Arabia-Deportation-fines-up-to-53-000-for-workers-gatherings
- Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in Saudi Arabia,” January 2016, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/middle-east/saudi-arabia