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Saudi Arabia deports thousands of Somalis

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabian authorities have deported more than 12,000 migrants back to their native Somalia, where many now face life-threatening situations, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.

The New York-based group said in a statement that hundreds of women and children are among the migrants sent back to a country where hundreds of thousands live in dire conditions in camps in the capital, Mogadishu, after fleeing famine and violence elsewhere.

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A number of the deportees are from south-central Somalia, where security has broken down and danger is rampant.

The deportations are part of a Saudi campaign to remove undocumented foreign workers after decades of lax immigration enforcement allowed migrants to take many low-wage jobs that the kingdom’s own citizens shunned. Saudi authorities, grappling with high unemployment, now want those jobs for the kingdom’s citizens.

The International Organization for Migration says the Somali government expects Saudi Arabia to deport another 30,000 people in the coming weeks. The United Nations refugee agency says its staff has been denied access to the detained Somalis.

Human Rights Watch said that major donors to the UN refugee agency, including the European Union and the United States, should press Saudi Arabia to end the deportations.

‘‘The Saudi government is entitled to promote employment opportunities for its own citizens, but it needs to make sure it’s not sending people back to a life-threatening situation,’’ Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher, said. ‘‘Saudi Arabia has no excuse for not offering protection to some of the world’s most vulnerable people.’’

Human Rights Watch said it spoke to Somalis who were recently deported who say they were held for weeks in ‘‘appalling conditions.’’

A woman in her ninth month of pregnancy told Human Rights Watch she was detained in Saudi Arabia and separated from her husband. She said a Saudi policewoman beat her on the back with a baton while she stood in line at the airport. She went into labor and gave birth on the cabin floor of the plane as it flew to Mogadishu, the group said.

The group said others described severe overcrowding, sweltering heat, lack of access to fresh air, and limited medical assistance in Saudi detention centers.

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