Urgent Action Needed to Address Conditions in Detention in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: IOM Director General

Geneva - The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is alarmed by the deteriorating situation of Ethiopian migrants detained by authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in what media reports present as inhumane conditions. Footage and pleas for help have been shared widely in the public domain recently, indicating overcrowding, lack of basic humanitarian items and poor health and sanitation conditions.  

Situations of vulnerability for many migrants, especially those detained, have increased greatly with the sudden onset of COVID-19 in early 2020, including widespread reports of discrimination, xenophobia and the growing risks of human trafficking and exploitation. IOM has called on all states to ensure the inclusion of migrants, regardless of their status, in all public health responses.  

IOM and the UN Network on Migration have also called for a moratorium on forced returns and the use of immigration detention in the context of COVID-19, recommending instead the scaling up and implementation of non-custodial and community-based alternatives, in a manner that prioritizes children, families and other migrants in vulnerable situations. We cannot stress enough the importance of considering detention only as a very last resort, and of improving conditions in immigration detention while states transition away from the current approach towards more rights-based and humane alternatives and systems for migration management.  

IOM also promotes alternative measures, including assisted voluntary return and reintegration support for those wishing to go home or humanitarian and socio-economic assistance in situ, with a view to ensuring safe conditions for people on the move, and protection for the most vulnerable - including victims of trafficking, exploitation and abuse, and unaccompanied and separated children. 

The Organization welcomes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Human Rights Commission’s efforts to investigate the situation as well as steps taken towards greater coordination with migrants’ countries of origin, in order to address without delay such difficult circumstances. We are keen on ensuring the continuation of these efforts through a coordinated response that prioritizes the protection of migrants in vulnerable situations and guarantees compliance with international standards and human rights norms, as well as states’ obligations to safeguard the lives of people on their territory, regardless of their migratory status.  

IOM calls for humanitarian access to those in need of urgent aid in such difficult conditions in order to ensure their safety as a first step. This should be complemented by a comprehensive assessment of the needs to provide tailored support, including referrals and voluntary return options, with support for sustainable reintegration in the country of origin. 

In the current context, any returns of stranded migrants to their home countries should follow strict health protocols, to ensure the safety of migrants, their host communities and communities of origin. 

The Organization stands ready to extend full support to host governments in coordination with the countries of origin of concerned migrants in order to identify solutions to such challenging circumstances. 


For more information please contact: 

In Geneva: Safa Msehli, +41 79 403 5526,