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African migrants ‘left to die’ in Saudi Arabia’s hellish Covid detention centres

The Telegraph & Sunday Telegraph


In August and September 2020, Will Brown and Zecharias Zelalem published a major series of investigative pieces into Saudi Arabia’s horrific Covid detention centre for Africa migrants in The Telegraph.

The first piece showed that the fabulously wealthy kingdom had left ‘hundreds if not thousands’ of Africa migrants ‘to die’ in appalling disease-infested, slave camp-like conditions.

They spoke to migrants on phones smuggled into the centres on encrypted channels and geolocated two of the centres. They obtained graphic photos from the centres and published accounts of torture and killings by Saudi prison guards.

After the initial investigation, condemnation rained down on Saudi Arabia from around the world, and the United Nations Secretary-General said they had launched an investigation into the centres.

Subsequent reporting found the situation was far worse than initially reported and that tens of thousands of migrants were being held in appalling conditions across the kingdom including women and children.

The reporters found that the Ethiopian government had tried to silence the migrants, most probably to avoid a diplomatic fallout with a major investor in its economy.

After the initial report, Saudi Arabia promised it would investigate all of its detention centres. But Zecharias and Will showed that migrants had been tortured and chained up as a punishment for trying to communicate with the outside world.



Will and Zecharias’ reporting on Saudi Arabia went viral on social media, reaching millions of people. Their findings were republished or referenced in more than 20 major outlets, including the New York Times, AP, AFP, the Washington Post, the BBC and Al Jazeera. The hacking group Anonymous also publicised the findings.

After the initial investigation, condemnation rained down on Saudi Arabia from around the world. The International Office for Migration and the International Trade Union Confederation issued strong statements on the Saudi centres. The UN Secretary-General then launched an investigation into the matter. After their reporting, Ethiopia started repatriating hundreds of women and children from Saudi Arabia.

When Amnesty International released a report on the centres in September, members of the EU Parliament passed a resolution strongly condemning Saudi Arabia for the abuses and calling for a reduced EU presence at the G20 in Riyadh. MEPs said that Telegraph and Amnesty reporting had been a driving force behind their action.