Geneva - The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor calls for improving the poor condition of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia and stopping the continuing abuses against them, demanding a series of government reforms.
“The Saudi authorities are failing to enforce their labor laws to address a number of inhumane abuses against foreign workers who are now living under slave-like conditions,” says the Euro-Med.
Saudi Arabia has more than 10.24 million foreign workers, who are engaged in manual, accounting, service and domestic work, accounting for one-third of the Kingdom's population and more than half of its workforce.
The Saudi authorities continues to impose increasing burdens on expatriates and workers, including financial taxes on services, housing and accompanying individuals, worsening their living conditions and eventually forcing tens of thousands to leave the Kingdom for not being able to fulfill these obligations.
The imposition of such fees greatly affects Arab refugees who fled to the Kingdom, especially those from Yemen and Syria, since the decision to impose taxes did not exclude any category such as those came to the Kingdom for humanitarian reasons.
Starting from July 1, the Saudi authorities began to apply a tax on companions and escorts to expatriate workers, at a rate of 100 riyals per month ($27) and a year later, the fees would be doubled to 200 riyals per month.
Moreover, the Saudi authorities have forced thousands of workers to leave the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where they were severely abused by security forces and Saudi nationals during their detention and deportation.
Such serious violations of human rights in the Kingdom are due to what is known as the sponsorship system, in which the status of the expatriate employee's visa is determined by the employer ‘sponsor’; meaning that he cannot enter or leave the country or switch employers without the authorization of his current employer. Thus, the worker's right to movement becomes substantially restrained.
“Such a system besieges foreign workers in the Kingdom, punishes the victims who escape the violations of employers and harsh conditions of work, consequently leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse,” the Euro-Med warns.
Among other forms of exploitation of foreign migrants faced by domestic workers (most of whom are women) includes excessive work, restricted residence, lack of payment of wages, deprivation of food, psychological, physical and sexual abuse with total lack of accountability. If a complaint is filed by the workers against their employers, they are often prosecuted under counter-charges of theft, sorcery or witchcraft.
“The sponsorship system imposes slave-like life on foreign workers as the sponsor controls workers completely,” says James Stuart, a Euro-Med legal adviser.
“The sponsor in Saudi Arabia perceives the migrant worker more like a slave or a servant, and restricts his movement by keeping his passport in his possession, because laws there are established in the first place for the employers' own good,” Stuart added.
Stuart illustrates that some companies and businesses in the Kingdom prefer to choose the worst types of housing for their workers. To reduce expenses, sponsors force workers to stay in dilapidated buildings and overcrowded neighborhoods, eventually encouraging the emergence of many crimes, caused by poverty, exclusion and marginalization.
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor calls on the Saudi authorities to reform or abolish the sponsorship system, and to allow workers to freely switch jobs and to cancel off the condition of obtaining an employer's approval so that workers could issue an exit visa and leave the country.
The Euro-Med also calls on the Saudi government to stop mass expulsions of foreign workers and to ensure that future deportations are based on individual assessments of workers as well as their living conditions, including the need for international protection by signing the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol.