Amnesty International reveals the detention of pregnant women and children as young as one month by authorities in Saudi Arabia, as a part the country’s crackdown against undocumented migrants from Ethiopia.
A video taken in a women’s ward which was verified by Amnesty International and geo-located to Al-Kharj detention centre showed women in extremely crowded and unsanitary rooms detained with young children and babies lying on the floor.
Maryam, who spent five weeks in the female detention ward of Al-Shumaisi detention centre said: “My eight-year-old child was taking care of my baby because I was bleeding. The bleeding did not stop after I gave birth before my arrest. I was not doing ok.” She added that there were two pregnant women held with her in the same cell, one of whom delivered a baby while in detention.
In a study launched last week, Amnesty International examined the experience of Ethiopian migrants forcibly returned by the Saudi authorities between June 2021 and May 2022. The research outline is based on analysis and interviews conducted by Amnesty International between May and June 2022. 19 people, including 11 former detainees, one family member, three aid workers, and four journalists, participated in the interviews.
The new study contains information about what Ethiopian men, women, and children endured while being held at the Al-Kharj and Al-Shumaisi Detention Centers before being deported to Ethiopia between June 2021 and May 2022.
Saudi Arabian authorities detained the Ethiopians in overcrowded cells with insufficient ventilation at the detention facilities, according to Amnesty International. The detainees were also denied access to basic medical care when exposed to communicable diseases like tuberculosis and had poor access to food, water, and sanitation.
According to former prisoners who spoke to Amnesty, between 200 and 400 of them were kept in cells with 60 beds, which they alternated using while the others slept on the floor.
Numerous outbreaks were caused by the crowded and unhygienic surroundings, for which they did not receive treatment.
Prison guards used torture or other cruel treatment against detainees as a sort of retribution for refusing to participate in the brutal practices, for attempting to document their conditions on social media, or for getting into an argument with other detainees.
One of the interviewers informed Amnesty that as retaliation for the food boycott, “prison guards took anyone close to the cell door to be punished, 10 at a time, and forced them to stand and raise their hands for two hours, during which they were lashed with a steel cable.”
Another inmate was subjected to the same torture again for disagreeing with another detainee after being made to stand on hot asphalt for an hour while being beaten with a stick for sharing their situation on Tik-Tok.
Former detainees told Amnesty International that between April 2021 and May 2022, at least 10 people died while being held at the detention facilities.
“One of my friends died one month after being tortured. He suffered rib pain but was not taken to the hospital. We urged jail authorities to take his body after he died, but we were not allowed to continue knocking on the gates. Two days later, they removed his body,” a former detainee at the Al-Kharj center said.
The majority of the Ethiopians who were deported went to Saudi Arabia in search of better economic opportunities. However, the detention they experienced there has had a significant psychological impact on them.
A humanitarian worker who spoke with Amnesty International stated that “due to the extreme conditions experienced in detention centers, many returnees developed severe medical conditions, such as physical and psychological trauma, psychiatric illnesses due to gender-based violence, suspected rape, and respiratory illnesses, including pneumonia.”