Hundreds, if not thousands of black African migrants are locked up in squalid conditions in Saudi Arabian coronavirus detention centres, reminiscent of Libya’s slave camps, according to an investigation by the Sunday Telegraph.
Images published by the newspaper, taken by migrants on their mobile phones show hundreds of emaciated men lying in rows inside small rooms with barred windows, many of the detainees were stripped down to their undergarments.
“It’s hell in here. We are treated like animals and beaten every day,” said Abebe, an Ethiopian who has been held at one of the centres for more than four months.
Another explained that the guards just throw the bodies out back “as if it was trash”, while at least one 16-year old is believed to have already taken his own life, and can be seen hanging from a window, having been unable to continue living at the centre. Several of the migrants display scars on their backs and claim they are beaten by guards who hurl racial abuse at them. Other detention facilities are said to house women.
Most of the men are said to be Ethiopians who came to Saudi Arabia seeking to escape the poverty back home, some arrived after having been recruited by Saudi agents or human traffickers. Tens of thousands have made their way over the past decade, the report says. Some of the African migrants are from neighbouring war-torn Yemen.
Photos emerging from detention centres in southern Saudi Arabia show that authorities there are subjecting Horn of Africa migrants to squalid, crowded, and dehumanising conditions with no regard for their safety or dignity
Adam Coogle, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in the Middle East, was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
Following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March, Saudi authorities feared the African migrants, often housed in overcrowded conditions, would be carriers of the virus. Almost 3,000 were deported to Ethiopia in the first ten days of April and a leaked UN memo said a further 200,000 were to follow, according to the report.
The pandemic is not the only reason given for the treatment of the migrants. The “Saudization” of the kingdom’s workforce, a policy introduced by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is also said to have led to a backlash against African migrants.