UN concerned about immigration detention centers in Saudi Arabia, amid demands to halt sanctions against irregular residence during Covid-19 pandemic
Translation and editing by: Committee for Justice
Geneva, 31 March, 2021
UN experts called on Saudi authorities to solve the problem of hundreds of migrants detained awaiting deportation, who have been detained in unsanitary and inhumane conditions, without adequate access to health care or necessary protection in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Inhumane detention conditions:
In a memorandum sent to Saudi Arabia on January 28, 2021, and which has not yet been answered, experts stated that hundreds of immigrants were detained in the Iskan 2 Centre, in Al Kharj area, Riyadh, which includes more than 50 rooms, with an area of 250 square meters. Migrants have not been able to access legal assistance and challenge the legality of their detention, in addition to the lack of means of livelihoods such as food, clean water, and the inability to sleep beside the raw sewage spilling across the floor.
The memo added that the detention of these immigrants extended for months, an average of 6 months, and at least two men were detained for more than a year, and that they shared between two to five toilets with 350 other detained migrants, and they are offered a piece of bread during the day and rice in the evening, and some of them were exposed to forms of psychological and physical abuse that may amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as migrants were beaten with whips and electric wires, and guards hurled racial slurs at them when they sought medical care or complained about the conditions of detention. Three of the migrants died between October and November 2020, and a 16-year-old girl committed suicide.
The experts indicated that similar detention centers were geolocated, notably in Jizan province (Al-Dayer centre), in Al Shumaisi, near Mecca, in Jazan, a port town near Yemen, and Jeddah.
An increased risk in light of the Covid-19 pandemic:
In their memo, the experts explained that the risk of detaining these immigrants increases in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the lack of appropriate preventive measures to protect them, amid unsanitary conditions of detention and overcrowding.
The experts have received reports that they were not tested for Covid-19 before they arrived in the centre and that many of them suffer from illness and various diseases such as skin infections without adequate access to healthcare.
The experts expressed their grave concern about the safety of migrants held in overcrowded and unsanitary detention centers in conditions that may amount to cruelty, as well as their concern about allegations of hundreds of migrants being held in indefinite and prolonged detention, which may amount to arbitrary detention.
The experts also expressed serious concerns regarding the potential deportation of hundreds of migrants, without individual assessments of their protection needs and procedural guarantees, in violation of the principle of non-refoulement and the prohibition of collective expulsions. Furthermore, the experts were also concerned that in the absence of individual assessments, some migrants may be subject to persecution if returned.
The experts called on the Saudi authorities to suspend forced returns during the Covid-19 pandemic, and to integrate these migrants in the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
UN demands from the Saudi authorities:
The experts called on the Saudi government to provide any information about the conditions of these immigration detention centers, the legality and necessity of detaining these migrants, and the legal avenues provided to the migrants to challenge their detention and deportation.
The experts also called on Saudi Arabia to clarify the measures taken to ensure that individual assessments are conducted to guarantee the rights of persons in need of international protection, ensuring the continuity of asylum and other protection procedures for unaccompanied or separated children, victims of human trafficking, and other people in vulnerable situations at the borders.
The experts also requested information on all prevention measures taken in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in immigration detention facilities, and the measures taken to ensure that migrants in the Kingdom in general have access to tests, treatment, health care and social protection, especially migrants who have lost their jobs and their inclusion in assistance initiatives, regularization programmes, visa extensions, suspension of sanctions for irregular stay, among other measures.
The experts also called on the Saudi authorities to indicate the measures they have taken to coordinate with relevant embassies or consulates to ensure the effective repatriation of migrant workers who wish to return to their countries of origin.