Saudi Arabia: Mass demolitions and forced evictions marred by violations and discrimination

An ongoing large-scale demolition and eviction plan, part of the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s strategy to achieve Vision 2030, which impacts half a million people in over 60 neighbourhoods in the coastal city of Jeddah, violates international human rights standards and discriminates against foreign nationals, Amnesty International said today calling on the authorities to end forced evictions.

According to the organization’s review of a Jeddah Municipality document, with a timeline of development plans dating back to 2019, the demolitions affect more than 558,000 residents. The demolitions began in October 2021 and have continued intermittently since then.

The Saudi Gazette announced on 31 January 2022 a compensation scheme for citizens excluding foreign nationals who make up 47% of those evicted. According to the authorities, the value of compensation will only be appraised after the demolition of buildings.

“Beneath the progressive, glitzy image that Saudi Arabia is trying to present to the world, lie horrid stories of abuses and violations. The world will not be fooled by sham fanfare. A Jeddah Municipality document shows that project plans were finalized almost three years ago, yet the Saudi authorities failed to engage in a process of genuine consultation with residents, provide adequate notice and announce the amount of compensation and provide it to residents prior to the demolitions,” said Diana Semaan, Amnesty International’s Acting Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The authorities are building this project at any cost to the people living in the area. Not only did they callously kick residents out of their homes without giving them adequate time or compensation to find an alternative home, but they also discriminated against hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals by excluding them from the compensation scheme.”

Amnesty International interviewed one resident, three activists and three journalists with knowledge of the situation on the ground, two of whom were in Jeddah between February 2022 and May 2022. The organization also verified satellite images that showed at least 20 neighbourhoods across Jeddah demolished between October 2021 and May 2022, and 13 videos that showed the destruction of buildings in multiple neighbourhoods.

In April 2022, Amnesty International wrote to the Saudi Arabian Human Rights Commission raising questions and concerns about the demolition and due process requirements in the context of evictions but has not received a response.

Beneath the progressive, glitzy image that Saudi Arabia is trying to present to the world, lie horrid stories of abuses and violations.

Diana Semaan, Amnesty International

According to a public official document reviewed by Amnesty International, residents were given a notice period ranging between 24 hours in one neighbourhood and between one and six weeks in others. For example, in the Al Ghaleel neighbourhood, one of the impacted neighbourhoods, electricity was cut off one day after residents saw “evacuate” painted on their buildings. In other neighbourhoods, schedules for evictions and demolitions were posted on billboards or through state-aligned media.

“I only found out about the eviction through spray paint on our building on 22 January and a paper posted on our ground floor stating that we had to leave before the end of the month. I never saw or spoke to any municipality or government officials.” said a foreign national who had been living in one of the neighbourhoods for three years before he was forced to leave in February 2022.

In line with the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement, the authorities must offer compensation and resettlement to all those affected without discrimination, ensuring that no one is left homeless as a result of an eviction, including citizens and non-citizens, those with or without ownership documents, and tenants. In addition, they must involve all affected individuals, provide appropriate notice, release information in advance and provide all affected residents reasonable time to publicly review or object to the proposed plan, including plans to protect vulnerable groups.

Stigmatized and intimidated

State-aligned media channels have unleashed a sweeping stigmatizing narrative about people living in the affected areas, claiming that the majority of people in some areas are undocumented and the neighbourhoods are “rife with diseases, crime, drugs and theft” as the inhabitants are “violators of the residence and work system.”

One community activist told Amnesty International: “Entire communities are being destroyed. What will happen to those most vulnerable? Both documented and undocumented migrants cannot afford alternative housing in higher cost areas. Those who are undocumented are smeared as criminals. There is no empathy for them.”

There is a climate of fear around the sharing of information and the reporting of violations in the eviction process. According to an Amnesty International source who has direct contact with residents in Jeddah, people fear reprisals by the authorities if they demand their rights and are therefore afraid to speak out. One resident said he feared he would face the same fate as Abdul Raheem al-Huwaiti, who was killed by security forces in April 2020 after leading the community organizing against land acquisitions related to NEOM, a megacity project being built in Tabuk province in the north-west of Saudi Arabia.

Many people using pseudonyms have taken to Twitter to protest the destruction of their neighbourhoods and homes, as well as the difficulties they face in finding affordable alternative housing. They are also protesting the high cost of living and housing for those evicted, the delay in compensation, and the increased prices of rent and home relocation services in Jeddah.

Background

In 2017, Saudi Arabia launched Vision 2030, a plan to diversify the economy and create more opportunities for women and young people.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince launched the Jeddah Central Project in December 2021, a SR75 billion (approximately USD 20 billion) to develop 5.7 million square meters of land. The first demolitions in relation to this project started in October 2021 followed by another round in January 2022, when videos of the destruction began surfacing on social media.

The post Saudi Arabia: Mass demolitions and forced evictions marred by violations and discrimination appeared first on Amnesty International.

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