Human Rights Watch spoke to five Ethiopian migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. Four Ethiopians in Riyadh told Human Rights Watch that the attacks began after November 4, 2013, when authorities resumed a campaign to arrest foreign workers who they claim are violating labor laws. Security forces have arrested or deported tens of thousands of workers. Saudi officials and state-controlled media have said that migrant workers have also been responsible for violence, including attacks on Saudi citizens, in the wake of the crackdown.
"Saudi authorities have spent months branding foreign workers as criminals in the media, and stirring up anti-migrant sentiment to justify the labor crackdown," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. "Now the Saudi government needs to rein in Saudi citizens who are attacking foreign workers."
Saudi authorities should immediately investigate assaults on Ethiopian and other migrant workers by security forces and Saudi citizens, and hold those responsible for violent crimes to account, Human Rights Watch said. Saudi and Ethiopian authorities should work to speedily repatriate undocumented foreign workers waiting in makeshift holding centers, if they have no fear of returning home, and ensure that they get adequate food, shelter, and medical care.
The most violent attacks occurred on the evening of November 9 in areas around the Manfouha neighborhood of southern Riyadh, where Ethiopian residents make up a majority of residents, according to local activists. Two Ethiopian migrant workers told Human Rights Watch that they saw groups of people they assumed to be Saudi citizens armed with sticks, swords, machetes, and firearms, attack foreign workers.
One of the Ethiopians, a 30-year-old supervisor at a private company, said he heard shouts and screams from the street, and left his home near Manfouha to see what was happening. When he arrived near Bank Rajahi on the road to the Yamama neighborhood, west of Manfouha, he saw a large group of Ethiopians crying and shouting around the dead bodies of three Ethiopians, one of whom he said had been shot, and two others who had been beaten to death. He said six others appeared to be badly injured.