The Guardian: ‘We drink from the toilet’: migrants tell of hellish Saudi detention centres

Kingdom urged to rethink mass deportation policy as crowded and insanitary conditions spark Covid-19 fears

Ibraahin’s* first week of work at a market in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was also his last. As the sun set on the fifth day, the police descended upon the crowds and rounded up the 40-year-old Somali, along with several other undocumented migrant workers. They were transported to the nearby al-Shumaisi detention centre where many, including Ibraahin, remain months later, awaiting deportation.

Saudi authorities regularly arrest those found to be working illegally in the kingdom without a visa. Many are held in al-Shumaisi, a huge complex designed to hold 32,000 inmates. It has four grey-walled wings for male inmates, two for females and one for children. Detainees are held in a crowded series of bunk bed-filled halls, which each hold around 80 people.

Smartphones are confiscated from the migrant workers when they arrive, preventing them from documenting their living conditions, several inmates interviewed have said.

“We are packed as animals. We sleep on metal beds with no mattress, no proper sanitation,” Ibraahin told the Guardian through a translator. “We drink water from the toilet. If you have money you can buy clean water. If don’t have any, you just take dirty water from the toilet.”

The coronavirus pandemic has brought fresh anguish. Detainees are fearful of catching Covid-19 because of the cramped and insanitary living conditions. Ibraahin says some people in his room are sick, but there is no way to tell if they have the virus as they don’t have access to healthcare.



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