Close

REGIONAL AFFAIRS

IGAD calls for alternatives to Covid-19 detentions in Saudi Arabia

In Summary

• This is in reaction to reports that Saudi Arabia is detaining hundreds or thousands of African migrants in inhumane conditions as part of a drive to stop the spread of coronavirus.

• The Telegraph on Sunday, August 30, reported that the migrants were locked in heinous conditions reminiscent of Libya’s slave camps. 

IGAD Executive Secretary Workneh Gebeyu on August 31
IGAD Executive Secretary Workneh Gebeyu on August 31
Image: COURTESY/IGAD

IGAD has said it will advocate alternatives to detentions and consider their temporary suspension in the context of Covid-19.

This is in reaction to reports that Saudi Arabia is detaining hundreds or thousands of African migrants in inhumane conditions as part of a drive to stop the spread of coronavirus.

This, however, appears a lukewarn reaction and position, given the gravity of the matter.

The Telegraph on Sunday, August 30, reported that the migrants, most of them from the Horn of Africa,  were locked in heinous conditions reminiscent of Libya’s slave camps. 

 

The detention centres identified by The Telegraph house mainly Ethiopian men, while it is said others  are packed with women. The newspaper geolocated two of the centres in Al Shumaisi, near the holy city of Mecca and the other in Jazan, a port town near Yemen. 

“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,” the investigation said.

Reacting to this, IGAD Executive Secretary Workneh Gebeyu hosted the region’s ministers of Interior and Labour to discuss the issue.

The ministers who attended the virtual meeting were from Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. Representatives from UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, GIZ and other UN agencies and those of the EU, Sweden and Germany also attended. Kenya was represented by Interior Chief Administrative Secretary Amb Hussein Dado

Gebeyu said the ministers called for “protection, assistance and durable solutions for people on the move across the region".

In the September 2 communiqué, the ministers committed to develop a common position and engage as a bloc with Gulf Cooperation Countries to ensure protection of IGAD migrant workers.

 

The six countries that make up the GCC are Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar and host the majority of the estimated 23 million workers living in the Arab states.

Igad said will develop pre-departure and post-arrival protocols agreeable to countries of origin and destinations to enable safe returns.

Additionally, states will establish collaboration on diplomatic and consular assistance for migrant workers, particularly in countries where some members have no representation.

GCC, Amnesty International said in April this year, have become notorious for abuse and exploitation of migrant workers.

“Unpaid wages, forced labour, dangerous working conditions and unsanitary accommodation facilities are too often part and parcel of the migration experience,” Amnesty said on April 30.

The human rights organisation noted that GCC operate versions of the ‘kafala’ sponsorship system, which ties the workers’ immigration right to their contracts.

“This means people risk being imprisoned or deported if they leave their jobs without the permission of their employers. In Saudi Arabia, migrant workers cannot even leave the country without such permission,” Amnesty said.

The kafala system has been criticised by human rights groups for creating easy opportunities for the exploitation of workers, as many employers take away passports, leaving them with little chance of legal repercussions.

The system requires all unskilled labourers to have an in-country sponsor, usually their employer, who is responsible for their visa and legal status.

Some of the migrants are usually smuggled or trafficked and to curb this, Igad will cooperate on intelligence gathering and sharing.

“We commit to promote coordinated approaches in the developments of bilateral labour migration agreements and harmonisation of labour laws, and develop joint programmes and intervention to address the needs of people on the move,” the communiqué said.