IC Reacts after Telegraph Exposes Saudi Arabia’s Hellish Covid Detention Centres for African Migrants

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African migrants 'left to die' in Saudi Arabia’s hellish Covid detention centres
Plenty of inmates are suicidal or suffering from mental illnesses as a result of living this for five months,” said one prisoner CREDIT: Telegraph exclusive

Somalilandsun: Saudi Arabia, one of the wealthiest countries on earth, is keeping hundreds if not thousands of African migrants locked in heinous conditions reminiscent of Libya’s slave camps as part of a drive to stop the spread of Covid-19, an investigation by The Sunday Telegraph has found.

Graphic mobile phone images sent to the newspaper by migrants held inside the detention centres show dozens of emaciated men crippled by the Arabian heat lying shirtless in tightly packed rows in small rooms with barred windows.

One photo shows what appears to be a corpse swathed in a purple and white blanket in their midst. They say it is the body of a migrant who had died of heatstroke and that others are barely getting enough food and water to survive.

Another image, too graphic to publish, shows a young African man hanged from a window grate in an internal tiled wall. The adolescent killed himself after losing hope, say his friends, many of whom have been held in detention since April.

The migrants, several displaying scars on their backs, claim they are beaten by guards who hurl racial abuse at them. “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.

African migrants 'left to die' in Saudi Arabia’s hellish Covid detention centres
Men with marks on their backs which they say were caused by the guards beating them

Saudi Arabia has agreed to investigate following a Sunday Telegraph investigation which revealed the Gulf State is keeping hundreds if not thousands of African migrants locked in cramped and unhygienic detention centres as part of a drive to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Conditions in the centres are so bad that people are dying and the images smuggled out have been compared to those of slave camps.  Today The Telegraph publishes video images from inside one of the detention centres. It shows raw sewage spilling across the floor in an area in which those detained have to sleep and eat.

“Please help us”, one of those in the video is heard pleading. “Watch this and do something for us,” says another.

The investigation, first published on Sunday, has sparked a whirlwind of condemnation and criticism around the world from human rights groups, politicians, and Black Lives Matters activists.

The British government said it was “very concerned” and the official opposition called for immediate action from the Saudi authorities.

“Emerging evidence of the shocking conditions in which African migrants are being held in Saudi detention centres is deeply disturbing and demands immediate action,” said Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Doughty.

African migrants 'left to die' in Saudi Arabia’s hellish Covid detention centres
The men are held in cramped unhygienic conditions

“The Saudi Government must bring an immediate end to this appalling practice and permit access for independent health and human rights experts. It is vital that those being detained are held in line with international migration law and treated with the dignity and compassion they deserve.”

“UK Government Ministers must immediately raise this worrying situation with their counterparts in Saudi Arabia, particularly in light of the country’s historically poor record on protecting and upholding human rights,” Mr Doughty added.

The story has sparked outrage across Africa and the Middle East, and has featured prominently on Al Jazeera and other Arabic media channels.

A spokesman for the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres told The Telegraph, said the UN was also investigating.

A spokesperson for the UN’s International Office of Migration (IOM) in Geneva said that they were “deeply concerned about the troubling images of Ethiopian migrants detained in Saudi Arabia, in apparently inhumane conditions.”

“Emerging evidence of the shocking conditions in which African migrants are being held in Saudi detention centres is deeply disturbing and demands immediate action,” said Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Doughty.

“The Saudi Government must bring an immediate end to this appalling practice and permit access for independent health and human rights experts. It is vital that those being detained are held in line with international migration law and treated with the dignity and compassion they deserve.”

“UK Government Ministers must immediately raise this worrying situation with their counterparts in Saudi Arabia, particularly in light of the country’s historically poor record on protecting and upholding human rights,” Mr Doughty added.

The story has sparked outrage across Africa and the Middle East, and has featured prominently on Al Jazeera and other Arabic media channels.

A spokesman for the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres told The Telegraph, said the UN was also investigating.

A spokesperson for the UN’s International Office of Migration (IOM) in Geneva said that they were “deeply concerned about the troubling images of Ethiopian migrants detained in Saudi Arabia, in apparently inhumane conditions.”

African migrants 'left to die' in Saudi Arabia’s hellish Covid detention centres
The Telegraph was able to geolocate two of the centres through encrypted channels. One of the sites is Al Shumaisi in Western Saudi Arabia near the holy city of Mecca. CREDIT: Google Earth Pro

IOM added that the overcrowded, unsanitary centres raise human rights concerns, and warned they could be a “breeding ground” for fatal diseases.  The Telegraph has located two of the detention centers and today published satellite images showing their exact location.

Graphic mobile phone images sent to the newspaper by migrants held inside the detention centres show dozens of emaciated men crippled by the heat lying half-naked in packed rows in small rooms with barred windows.

Many have not been outside for five months since they were rounded up by Saudi security forces in April as part of a drive to stop the spread of coronavirus.

One image, too graphic to publish, shows a young man hanged from a window grate. The adolescent killed himself after losing hope, say his friends.

Other migrants, some of whom display scars on their bodies and disfiguring skin infections on their faces, claim they are regularly beaten and racially abused by the prison guards.

Saudi Arabia, a member of the UN’s Human Rights Council, told The Telegraph in a statement that “the images are of course shocking and unacceptable to us as a country”.

African migrants 'left to die' in Saudi Arabia’s hellish Covid detention centres
The Telegraph was able to geolocate two of the centres through encrypted channels. One of the sites is near the port city of Jazan near Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen. CREDIT: Google Earth Pro

The Saudi government said it was “looking into the state of all official government facilities in light of the allegations,” it added.

The statement, which was sent to the newspaper by the Saudi Arabian embassy in London, said: “If facilities are found to be lacking their needs will be addressed appropriately.”

Saudia Arabia sought to shift part of the blame for the scandal to Ethiopia, home to many of those being held.  “We believe there are about 20,000 Ethiopian immigrants who recently crossed the border into Saudi via Yemen and their repatriation is being negotiated with the Ethiopian government.

“Sadly, the Ethiopian authorities have refused their re-entry under the claim of not being able to provide adequate quarantine facilities upon their arrival,” Saudia Arabia added.

African migrants 'left to die' in Saudi Arabia’s hellish Covid detention centres
Plenty of inmates are suicidal or suffering from mental illnesses as a result of living this for five months,” said one prisoner CREDIT: Telegraph exclusive

A high ranking Ethiopian minister denied the government had any knowledge of the dreadful conditions the migrants were being held in.

Mrs Tsion Teklu, Ethiopia’s Minister for Economic Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, said that they had not received any reports from their embassies of abuse in the centres and were only made aware of the situation when The Telegraph’s article was published.

Mrs Teklu declined the opportunity to issue any formal reaction to the conditions for Ethiopian migrants in the centres but said Ethiopia would raise the issue with the Saudi government.

The African Union, which has long been criticised for standing up for the continent’s strongmen more than Africans themselves, was also approached for comment but none has been received.

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