RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – A detainee died in a stampede during a riot at a Saudi detention centre for migrant workers awaiting deportation, police said Monday, adding that nine others were injured.
Police spokesman Lt. Col. Ati bin Attiya al-Qarshi said in a statement that some of the foreign detainees at the al-Shemaisi centre in the Red Sea city of Jiddah rioted Sunday evening and clashed with security personnel. He did not give the reasons for rioting or reveal the victims’ nationalities.
Yemeni online forums and news websites reported that 10 Yemenis were killed when police opened fire on the rioters who were demanding that Saudi authorities speed up their deportation. The reports say between 6,000 to 10,000 Yemenis are detained in the prison in Jiddah.
The deportations are part of a Saudi campaign to expel undocumented foreign workers after decades of lax immigration enforcement allowed migrants to take many low-wage jobs that the kingdom’s own citizens shunned. Saudi authorities, grappling with high unemployment, now want those jobs for the kingdom’s citizens.
Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis seek work in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, sometimes crossing into the kingdom illegally through their country’s porous northern border. Yemen is the Arab world’s most impoverished country and is reeling from several years of turmoil and political upheaval.
The Saudi migrant sweep has sparked violence before. In November, at least one Ethiopian and a Sudanese were killed in clashes between migrant workers protesting the crackdown and vigilante Saudis in the capital Riyadh. Similar clashes also broke out in Jiddah when police combed the area for migrants.
Human Rights Watch has criticized the conditions of detainees awaiting deportation in the kingdom. The rights group last month said more than 12,000 Somali migrants were held under “appalling conditions” before they were deported from Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi government says it has deported more than a quarter-million migrants since the government began enforcing its crackdown in November. Around 170,000 of those are Ethiopians, most of whom never acquired visas, often taking perilous boat journeys across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen from where they cross illegally into the kingdom with the help of smugglers.
An additional one million migrant workers were forced to leave the kingdom, or face arrest and deportation, during an amnesty period ahead of the government crackdown. The majority of foreign workers in the kingdom are from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as Egypt and Yemen.