(New York)- Saudi Arabia should immediately end its discrimination against its 100,000 Chadian residents, most of whom were born in the kingdom but are increasingly denied the rights to basic education and emergency healthcare, Human Rights Watch said today. Saudi Arabia’s decision to target Chadian children for expulsion from school is arbitrary and discriminatory.
For the past two years, the Saudi government has stopped renewing one- to two-year residency permits for all Chadians in Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch learned through telephone interviews with six Chadian nationals in and around Jeddah. Thus by the end of August, nearly all of the estimated 100,000 Chadian residents of Saudi Arabia will lack valid permits. The overwhelming majority of them were born in Saudi Arabia and have never lived in Chad; many have never even visited the African country. Under Saudi naturalization laws, it is nearly impossible for Chadians to acquire Saudi citizenship because they generally do not fulfill the educational and financial requirements.
“The Saudi government has a right to determine which foreigners are allowed into the country and how long they may stay,” said Joe Stork, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. “But once foreigners have been legally admitted, they should not be discriminated against solely on the basis of their national origin, whether with regard to their rights of basic education, emergency healthcare or justice.”
Chadian nationals in Saudi Arabia told Human Rights Watch that the targeting of Chadians began after a Saudi counterterrorism operation in Mecca in November 2003 resulted in the arrest of a Chadian together with an Egyptian and four Saudis. The vice president of the government-approved National Society for Human Rights, Dr. Mufleh al-Qahtani, told Human Rights Watch in June that the Chadian issue had a “security background.” On June 28, the Saudi government published its third list of the names of suspects wanted in connection with domestic terrorism, including three Chadian nationals who were residing outside the kingdom, according to the announcement by the Saudi Interior Ministry.
In interviews with Human Rights Watch, Chadians in Saudi Arabia rejected any notion of linking them as a group to terrorism. They rejected the government’s measures as collective punishment and pointed out that there was nothing distinctively Chadian about these three names in the list who grew up in Saudi culture and appear next to Saudi names. They said that while the Saudi government had made no public announcement of the policy to stop renewing residency permits for Chadians, immigration officials told them that the Ministry of Interior had decided on it. For the past two years, Saudi officials have been routinely, and without explanation, refusing to issue the customary two-year renewal of Chadian residency permits, including those who have the sponsorship of their long-time Saudi employers. Without permits, Saudi employers are required by law to dismiss the Chadians, who often work as laborers in the Islamic Port of Jeddah or as office secretaries.
Public schools have also expelled Chadian children because their parents could not renew their permits. Human Rights Watch obtained a copy of a circular sent by the Saudi Ministry of Education’s Girls Branch to schools, informing them of the Ministry’s study of “the issue of the Chadian nationality.” The circular, marked “important and urgent” and dated December 26, 2004, said that “the crimes [of Chadians] had multiplied.” It instructed teachers to return an accompanying questionnaire, providing information about Chadian schoolgirls such as their family’s monthly income, employment status and type of work, as well as any history of violence in the family and of violent behavior by the girls themselves.
A Chadian in Jeddah told Human Rights Watch by telephone that beginning in March 2005, the government began to target Chadian children for expulsion from public schools. After six weeks, they were allowed to return if they had a valid residency permit as well as a personal letter of clearance from the Ministry of Education. As the authorities prevented more and more Chadian families from renewing their residency permits, however, the schools made the expulsions permanent, and Chadian schoolchildren have been unable to attend school since then.
Foreigners cannot automatically enroll in Saudi universities, and some Chadians residing in the kingdom went abroad to study, mainly in Europe. After the Saudi government stopped renewing residency permits for Chadians, however, officials at the Immigration and Passports Department refused to give the usual “exit and return” stamp, instead stamping their passports “final exit” as they departed to study. This apparently means that they can no longer return to Saudi Arabia, the country where they have lived all their lives and where their families still reside. Three Chadian students in Britain, Germany and Norway told Human Rights Watch that they – and all other Chadians they know who are studying abroad – are barred from returning to Saudi Arabia.
The cut-off of residency renewals has also endangered the lives of Chadians by compromising their access to emergency medical care. Two Chadians in Saudi Arabia told Human Rights Watch that government hospitals had refused to provide emergency treatment to relatives whose residency permits had not been renewed. One Jeddah resident said that his aunt had died in his arms on March 1 at the entrance of the public King `Abd al-`Aziz Hospital after suffering what he believed was a stroke. The hospital staff refused to admit her and told them to go to a private hospital or a pharmacy, on the grounds that her permit had expired. Another Chadian said that a hospital in Jeddah last year refused to admit his pregnant sister, and only relented when she was about to give birth at the front gate. He said that public hospitals formerly admitted Chadian residents for emergency care, but were now refusing to do so.
The police detain people who lack a valid residency permit and place them in deportation centers. Those holding Chadian passports are deported to Ndjamena, the capital of Chad, even if they have never been there before. Deportations were halted in April and May because of increased instability in Chad, however. As of July, it remained unclear whether deportations had resumed. Saudi Arabia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and has no procedures for determining whether a Chadian has legitimate fears of persecution if sent to Chad.
A Chadian woman in Jeddah told Human Rights Watch by telephone that police arrested her elderly mother about five months ago after her residency permit had expired. The woman said her mother spent months in the deportation center without medical care, with inadequate food and in cramped conditions. She died soon after being deported to Chad.
The Saudi National Human Rights Society (NHRS) in Jeddah, which in May said it was addressing the question of Chadians in the kingdom, did not respond to a written enquiry by Human Rights Watch about Chadian residents facing discrimination and deportation. The NHRS, an initiative led by members of Saudi Arabia’s Shura (Consultative) Council, received start-up funding from then-Crown Prince Abdullah and operates with government approval. Saudi Arabia’s Commission for Human Rights, which has the status of a ministry, on July 24 responded to Human Rights Watch’s inquiry with a promise to relay information obtained by the Ministry of Interior on the status of Chadians. In June, King Abdullah had ordered ministries to respond to inquiries by the commission within two to three weeks, following a complaint by the commission’s president. As of August 29, however, the commission had not provided any information to Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch called upon the Saudi government to cease discrimination against Chadians based solely on their nationality and to consider the long-term presence of Chadians in Saudi Arabia and their lack of ties to their country of origin as favorable grounds for renewing their residency permits. The Saudi government must provide primary education free of charge to all children living in the country regardless of their immigration status, in accordance with Saudi Arabia’s obligations under the Convention of the Rights of the Child, to which it acceded in January 1996. It also must make emergency health care promptly available to all those who require it, without discrimination as to nationality or immigration status.