Saudi to deport scores of Rohingya refugees ‘against their will’ to Bangladesh
Updated: Dec 16, 2019
Rohingya detainees say they can prove their identities to the Saudis with their old Burmese ID cards.
Saudi Arabia is preparing to forcibly remove scores of Rohingya refugees "against their will" to Bangladesh after imprisoning them for an indefinite period inside a Saudi detention center, activists and imprisoned Rohingya told Middle East Eye. (MEE)
The planned deportations come after Saudi Arabia ordered Bangladesh to take back more than a hundred Rohingya who came on Bangladeshi passports to the Gulf kingdom - amid fears that Bangladesh is repatriating Rohingya to Myanmar.
Those being prepared for deportation from Saudi Arabia have told Middle East Eye they have Burmese ID cards to prove they are Rohingya from Myanmar - a country more than 700,000 of them have fled since August 2017 to avoid persecution from the army - and not Bangladeshi.
The detainees had begun to be processed for removal to Bangladesh just days after a visit to Saudi Arabia by Bangladesh's prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, in mid-October when she met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
During Hasina’s four-day visit to Saudi Arabia, MBS pledged to invest in Bangladesh and called for stronger military cooperation. Salman also praised Bangladesh’s response to the Rohingya crisis.
Beaten into signing their own deportation orders
Many Rohingya refugees came to Saudi Arabia on passports obtained via fake documents from several South Asian countries - including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan - in a bid to flee persecution in Myanmar. Most entered Saudi Arabia on Umrah pilgrimage visas several years ago.
But after being caught up in a series of Saudi immigration raids, the Rohingya were subsequently taken to the Shumaisi detention center in Jeddah, where they confessed to coming to the country on fake passports.
Members of the persecuted minority described fear and panic inside Shumaisi, as Saudi immigration police prepared to forcibly remove the Rohingya detainees to Bangladesh.
Several Rohingya detainees told Middle East Eye they were "punched" in the chest by Saudi immigration police and forced to sign documents declaring they had "full mental health" to consent to be sent to Bangladesh.
"The forms were already completed by the [Bangladeshi] embassy and Saudi immigration police," one detainee, who wished to remain anonymous, told MEE.
"They just needed our fingerprint and punched me in the chest to get it. We don't want to go to Bangladesh and live in the refugee camps. What future do we have there?"
Documents leaked to MEE confirmed testimony from detainees that forms from the Saudi Interior Ministry demanded a confirmation on the refugees’ "full mental health" before their deportation to Bangladesh.
The Saudis then handed these forms - with the Rohingya’s fingerprint and photo - to local Bangladeshi diplomats based in Saudi Arabia, who then gave the Rohingya Bangladeshis travel documents, according to the detainees in Shumaisi and documents presented to MEE.
The Bangladeshi travel documents are left blank with only a mugshot of the detainee attached at the bottom and signed later by Bangladesh's diplomats tasked with processing the deportation.
Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, its ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and the foreign minister did not respond to requests for comment. The Saudi embassy in the UK was also approached for comment but did not respond.
The anonymous detainee stopped speaking to MEE following several days of communication. Fellow inmates fear he has already been deported to Bangladesh.
Other detainees also told MEE that Saudi immigration police had been processing five to ten people daily in preparation for their deportation since mid-October.
Mobile phones that were previously allowed inside the detention center had also begun to be confiscated by the Saudi immigration police inside Shumaisi. The phones had been used by Rohingya detainees to communicate with each other across various holding cells in the Shumaisi detention center, which houses 32,000 undocumented workers from across the world.
Rohingya activists and family member estimate that hundreds of Rohingya who had come on fake passports were detained indefinitely in the Shumaisi detention centre. MEE could not independently verify the exact number of Rohingya detainees.