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Saudi Arabia: Survey reveals 'devastating impact' of Jeddah evictions and demolitions

In a revamp of the Red Sea port, monitoring group says residents were evacuated without notice or proper advice
A screenshot showing the widescale destruction of neighbourhoods in Jeddah (YouTube)

Saudi Arabian authorities have mishandled forced evictions and demolitions of residents in the port city of Jeddah, according to a new survey released on Wednesday by Saudi human rights organisation ALQST.

Research by the UK-based group shows that the majority of questionnaire respondents affected by the demolitions were not given adequate notice ahead of the evictions and were not offered any compensation for their losses.

Between the end of 2021 and the start of 2022, Saudi authorities evicted hundreds of thousands of residents from their homes as part of a wider plan to develop Jeddah, according to the government. 

The large-scale demolition programme and ensuing displacement caused a housing crisis, with rental prices skyrocketing across the city. In some cases, rents doubled in a matter of days, residents said, and many were unable to afford them.

Residents told Middle East Eye in January that the demolitions took them by surprise and gave them little to no room to plan their relocation or say goodbye to the neighbourhoods they have lived in for generations.

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Some people were forced to lay out their furniture in the open, taking shelter under bridges, according to eyewitness accounts. One resident said some families had to sleep in their cars.

Little to no warning

ALQST surveyed Jeddah residents who have been evicted or lost their homes because of demolitions. More than 91 percent of people surveyed have had their homes or commercial properties demolished as part of the development plan. While authorities claim that everyone was given notice, survey respondents paint a different picture.

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Sixty percent of respondents had received a warning in advance, but many said the time between notification and demolition was extremely short.

And 37 percent had not received any notification at all, according to the ALQST survey. Others were forced out of their homes after utilities were cut and conditions became unliveable.

Almost 63 percent of respondents claim they haven't been given clear information about the procedures to lodge compensation claims for the demolition. The research also points out that over 71 percent of respondents have not been told compensation is available at all.

Saudi Arabia is not part of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, under which member states are bound to recognise the right of everyone to adequate housing.

ALQST called on the Saudi authorities to "respect people's rights to adequate housing" and to "carry out a prompt and transparent inquiry into the mass evictions that have taken place".

A key city

Jeddah, the second-largest city in Saudi Arabia, is home to 4.5 million people. It is an important economic hub and the gateway to Mecca for millions of people every year, on their way to perform Hajj, the most important Muslim pilgrimage.

The areas demolished so far are located in south Jeddah, an area viewed by many as the heart and soul of the Red Sea city.

Often left behind by development projects as the city expanded north over the years, south Jeddah was a vibrant social centre made up of mixed ethnic groups who settled there decades ago.

Linked to the antique old town in the city's centre, known as al-Balad, south Jeddah has been in government development plans for years.

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Proposals to remove "slums" were introduced as early as 2007, but did not go through for many reasons, including government reluctance to agitate the local population. But the current Saudi government, pursuing its sweeping Vision 2030 economic plan, now has Jeddah's southern districts firmly in its sights.

A 2019 report titled "Jeddah: City Profile" was drafted by the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and UN-Habitat as part of Vision 2030. It provides an analysis of the city's urban planning and suggests recommendations for development, including the introduction of a metro system running through south Jeddah. It is unclear whether those development projects are linked to the ongoing demolitions. 

In December, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, announced plans to build "Jeddah Central", a project that aims to create a "world-class destination overlooking the Red Sea" in the city's north.

The project, which will cost around $20bn and be built in the "heart of Jeddah", will include an opera house, a museum, a sports stadium and an aquarium. A "world-class marina and stunning beach resorts" will also be built, along with 17,000 residential units and hotels providing more than 2,700 rooms.

"We are not against development," one resident said in January. "People here want Saudi to become the best place in the world. We support these projects. But you can't remove people in this manner."

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