Saudi Arabia urged to address treatment of illegal workers

Human Rights Watch alleges abuse and beatings of many undocumented workers detained since 2013
Saudi Arabia urged to address treatment of illegal workers
(Getty Images - for illustrative purpose only)
By Staff writer
Fri 15 May 2015 01:22 AM

Saudi authorities have conducted a concerted campaign since 2013 to detain and deport hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrant workers, resulting in abuses against many of them, Human Rights Watch has said in a new report.

Its 36-page report draws on interviews with 60 workers deported to Yemen and Somalia who claim they experienced serious abuses during the expulsion campaign.

Human Rights Watch said they described beatings and detention in poor conditions before they were deported.

The report added that many arrived back in their countries destitute, unable to buy food or pay for transportation to their home areas, in some cases because Saudi officials arbitrarily confiscated their personal property.

“Many of the hundreds of thousands of migrants Saudi Arabia has deported in the last year and a half have been sent back to places where their safety is threatened,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director.

“Saudi Arabia should treat all migrants with respect and decency, regardless of their status, and provide a fair legal process, including the right to challenge their deportation.”

Saudi Arabia stopped deporting citizens of Yemen in late March 2015, following intensification of violent conflict in Yemen, in which Saudi armed forces were involved.

Saudi Arabia should not resume deportations of Yemenis – or deport nationals of other countries– until it is able to carry out deportations in a manner that respects people’s rights, Human Rights Watch said.

None of the workers interviewed were allowed to challenge their deportations or apply for asylum, it added.

On November 4, 2013, the first day of the Islamic New Year, Saudi police and labour authorities began the nationwide campaign to locate, detain, and deport undocumented migrant workers, following an April 2013 amendment to the labour law.

The campaign has consisted of raids on neighbourhoods and businesses and ID checks at checkpoints. It resulted in the detention of 20,000 workers in the first two days alone, and has continued in phases ever since.

In April 2014, Interior Ministry officials confirmed that they had deported 427,000 undocumented foreigners over the previous six months.

In December, the Saudi newspaper Arab News reported that Saudi Arabia had detained 108,345 migrant workers across the country and deported 90,450 of them over the previous 40 days.

Human Rights Watch said Saudi Arabia should immediately halt mass expulsions, and ensure that any future deportations, are based on an individual assessment of the circumstances of the person being removed, including any international protection needs.

It also called on Saudi Arabia to change its labour rules to prevent thousands of workers from becoming undocumented and, most important, let workers change jobs if they face abuses.

"Saudi Arabia should also abolish the exit visa requirement to obtain permission from the employer to leave the country," the report added.

"The Saudi government has legitimate authority to deport undocumented migrants. But it must comply with international law, which requires treating migrants with dignity at all times and not returning anyone who would face a real risk of serious abuse on return. Saudi Arabia should give migrants who might fear persecution upon return the opportunity to lodge asylum claims, and consider any other protection needs," said Human Rights Watch.

“In seeking to enforce its labour laws, Saudi Arabia needs to be aware that these same laws sometimes encourage abuses that lead workers to become undocumented,” Whitson said. “Saudi Arabia will never solve the problem of informal work until it fixes its labour system to root out long-term systemic abuses.”

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