Saudi Arabia is detaining hundreds of migrants in squalid conditions in Riyadh, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says, quoting some who claimed they had been tortured or beaten.
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.
The report, released on Tuesday, quoted detainees as saying they were held in extremely overcrowded rooms and that guards tortured and beat them with rubber-coated metal rods, leading to at least three allegations of deaths in custody between October and November.
HRW said it spoke last month to seven Ethiopians being held and two Indians who were recently deported. All of them said they were kept in small rooms in a detention centre with up to 350 others.
Two of the detainees said they had been held for more than a year.
The detainees said no measures had been taken to minimise the spread of COVID-19, and some inside the facility had shown symptoms of being infected.
Migrants said they do not have enough room to all lie down on the bare floor at the same time, so some detainees would sleep during the day and others at night.
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 toilet, 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.
Saudi authorities have not commented on the report.
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.