20 June 2019 – Today, on World Refugee Day, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) calls on Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to respect the rights of refugees and those seeking refugee status. We also call upon all nations to halt the practice of extraditing refugees and individuals seeking asylum back to the home countries which they have fled due to abuse and human rights violations.
Hakeem AlAraibi, a former football player for the Bahrain national team who now plays for Pascoe Vale FC in Australia, was arrested by Bahraini security forces in November 2012 for allegedly vandalizing a police station. While he was released on bail three months later after being repeatedly tortured, in January 2014 AlAraibi was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia, despite the fact he was playing in a televised football match at the time of the alleged crime. In May of 2014, AlAraibi fled to Australia. He was granted a Permanent Protection Visa in 2017, which allowed him to reside and travel in and out of Australia as long as he did not travel to Bahrain. In November 2018, however, he was detained in Thailand while on a trip with his wife due to Bahrain issuing a Red Notice against him. INTERPOL later cancelled the notice given that AlAraibi was a confirmed asylum seeker, but Thai authorities did not honor the cancellation or his Permanent Protection Visa and kept him until February 2019, when Bahrain abandoned their extradition efforts due to international pressure and AlAraibi was able to safely return to Australia.
Bahraini activist Ali Mohamed al-Showaikh similarly sought safety from the Bahraini government and fled to the Netherlands in 2017, fearing persecution due to his participation in political protests in the kingdom. In October 2018, despite his possession of a valid passport and willingness to seek asylum elsewhere, Dutch authorities forcibly deported him to Bahrain. Al-Showaikh was arrested upon arrival and has since been held in prison in an overcrowded cell with no access to medical care and only an hour outside the cell each day. In February 2019, Al-Showaikh was sentenced to life in prison, stripped of his citizenship, and fined 500 Bahraini dinars on charges of harboring members of a terrorist group and possession of unauthorized firearms, though his citizenship was among 551 arbitrarily reinstated in April 2019.
In Saudi Arabia, Rohingya Muslims, a stateless minority who have been seeking asylum in nations surrounding Myanmar, are treated as illegal immigrants, with the Saudi government claiming that they have overstayed their visas or used false documents to enter the kingdom. Saudi Arabia has used this to detain Rohingya refugees for indefinite amounts of time, and since they are not Saudi citizens they have no legal recourse for which to appeal their detention. The Rohingya have been going on hunger strikes in Saudi prisons to protest the inhumane conditions they face. Saudi prison authorities regularly threaten to deny prisoners basic necessities and intentionally put them horrible conditions to force an end to their hunger strike. In January of 2019, Saudi Arabia deported 250 Rohingya individuals back to Bangladesh, many of whom were loaded onto planes handcuffed, and against their will.
The broader human rights situation in Saudi Arabia has also forced individuals to flee and seek asylum. Rahaf Mohammed, a Saudi teen, was recently granted asylum in Canada after escaping her abusive family and the restrictions of the male guardianship system. After countless instances of severe physical and psychological abuse, Mohammed fled during a family trip to Kuwait and flew to Thailand in hopes of seeking asylum in Australia. Upon arriving in Bangkok however, her passport was confiscated by a Saudi official who had been notified by her male guardian, which was her father, that she had traveled without permission. The Saudi Embassy in Thailand also threatened her that they would forcibly return her, or even kidnap her, if she were to refuse to board a flight back to Kuwait. Out of fear of being killed by her family if she were to return, she barricaded herself in a hotel room and began a twitter campaign calling for help. Two days later, United Nations (UN) officials arrived at her room and she was granted asylum in Canada and escorted by guards to Toronto.
Sisters Maha and Wafa Zayed al-Subaie are also victims of Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system. They have cited numerous instances of being physically and verbally abused by male family members. Maha’s father would regularly beat her in front of her 9-year-old son, who she was forced to leave behind in Saudi Arabia. The sisters fled to Georgia and were later granted Georgian passports and asylum in a third country. Georgia does not require a visa for entry, so their male relatives are able to freely move about the country looking for them.
Sadly, these individuals only provide a small snapshot of the thousands of individuals from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain who are escaping both domestic abuse and abuse at the hands of government agencies on an annual basis. The sharpest increase in Saudi refugees and asylum seekers took place in 2015 when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman emerged politically, and has increased crackdowns on free speech. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia continue to ignore international recommendations for improving human rights conditions for their citizens and repeatedly avoid being held accountable for abuses.
“The profiles of these individuals show a disturbing pattern of disregard for human rights in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain,” said Husain Abdulla, ADHRB’s Executive Director. “They also show how other nations can either save or destroy the lives of refugees. Whenever a nation turns away an individual seeking asylum, they are, in many cases, sending them to either certain death or severe abuse.”
It is imperative that nations receiving refugees and asylum seekers from these countries respect their rights and honor their protections under international law. Many individuals seeking asylum have been forcibly detained or turned away despite being within their legal rights. Harassing and intimidating refugees and asylum seekers upon entry only worsens the assault on human rights and emboldens guilty parties. On World Refugee Day, ADHRB calls on Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, as well as countries across the world, to respect the basic human rights of their own citizens as well as individuals seeking asylum.