By Dr Mustafa Mheta
Saudi Arabia is holding hundreds if not thousands of African migrants locked up in appalling conditions like the now infamous Libyan slave camps.
The Saudis justify their inhumane conduct by claiming this is part of their effort to try and stop the spread of Covid-19, an investigation by The Sunday Telegraph has found.
Graphic images sent to the newspaper by migrants held inside the detention centres show hundreds of men lying shirtless in tightly packed rows in rooms without windows.
One image shows what appears to be the body of a migrant who died of heatstroke with many others barely getting enough food and water to survive.
The guards even disrespect the dead as seen by the way they handle them with such disgrace.
Another picture shows a young African man hanging from a window of a tiled wall.
His friends say the adolescent killed himself after losing hope as they have been held in detention since April.
The Saudis are mistreating them as if African workers brought Covid-19 to the country.
When one looks at the images that have emerged, one cannot help but wonder why there are still such cruel people in the world even today.
Migrant workers are helping Saudi Arabia develop; yet, instead of showing gratitude and mercy, they mistreat them with such cruelty.
Many of them have visible scars on their bodies sustained from beatings by the guards who often hurl racial abuse at them as well.
They are being treated like animals and beaten virtually every day.
They are also denied food by the authorities.
Why not deport them to their countries of origin if their services are no longer needed?
The images and testimonies have elicited outrage from human rights activists across the world and resonated in light of the global “Black Lives Matter” movement.
Many detainees are from the Horn of Africa countries as well as from East and West Africa.
Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania have many young men and women working in the Gulf countries doing menial jobs to eke out an existence and send their meagre savings back home to their families.
They are subjected to all forms of abuse, not seen anywhere else in the world.
Young girls that go there to work are often subjected to rape. They live with this stigma for the rest of their lives.
They also face much discrimination at the hands of their Arab employers.
One young lady from Uganda that I met last January on a flight from Entebbe to Nairobi, and was travelling to one the Gulf countries (name withheld), explained how bad the situation is in those countries, especially for women.
They are forced to use their own plates, cups, and spoons as they are deemed ‘unclean’.
They cannot use the same plate as the host family.
Such discriminatory practices that are part of the Hindu caste system have been adopted by the Arabs that claim to be Muslims.
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia has long exploited African and Asian migrant workers.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates host respectively the third and fifth largest migrant populations in the world, according to figures compiled by the International Labour Organization.
Statistics show that 6.6 million foreign workers made up about 20 per cent of the kingdom’s population in June 2019, most working in low paid and often physically arduous jobs.
Many are employed in the construction industry or as domestic servants, roles the Saudis refuse to perform.
Most migrant workers in the Gulf countries, especially those from the Horn of Africa, East, and West Africa, are Muslim.
Even the majority of those from Asia are Muslims. Yet, Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam, practices such blatant discrimination against fellow Muslims.
Saudi Arabia is home to the two Holy Mosques but its people indulge in blatant racism.
This clearly shows they are not practicing real Islam.
The African Union (AU) should investigate, establish the truth and take effective measures against the Saudi regime.
African leaders must demand that their workers be treated with dignity because they are not slaves but free people.
Leaders of African countries with large numbers of workers in the Gulf countries should call on the Arab rulers to respect the rights of African workers.
Gone are the days when through the collaboration of African chiefs, they bought slaves from Africa.
Africa does not need Uncle Toms as leaders, whether kowtowing to the white man or the evil Arabian rulers.
By Dr Mustafa Mheta is Researcher/Head of Africa Desk at the Media Review Network in Johannesburg, South Africa