Saudi Arabia is detaining hundreds of mainly Ethiopian migrants in squalid conditions in Riyadh, Human Rights Watch said, quoting some as saying they had been tortured or beaten, and that at least three had died since October.
In a report issued on Tuesday, the rights group said it had spoken last month to seven Ethiopians now being held, and to two Indians recently deported, all of whom said they had been kept in small rooms in a detention centre with up to 350 others.
Some of the detainees said they had been tortured or beaten by guards with rubber-coated metal rods. Two said they had been held for more than a year. The detainees said no measures were taken to minimise the spread of COVID-19, and some inside the facility had shown symptoms of the virus.
In video footage published with the report, dozens of migrants could be seen sleeping in tightly packed rows, some in what looked to be a bathroom, next to piles of rubbish.
“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 HRW.
The Saudi government media office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
The migrants at the centre, mostly from Ethiopia but also from other African or Asian countries, were being held pending deportation, most having been arrested by Saudi authorities because they did not hold valid residency permits.
Foreign workers, who form the backbone of Gulf economies, 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. Several million others live in the kingdom outside the law.