Scores of stateless Rohingya refugees are on a hunger strike demanding an end to their indefinite detention in Saudi prisons.
A number of stateless Rohingya refugees detained indefinitely in a Saudi prison have started a hunger strike demanding an end to their situation.
The refugees explained their circumstances to the Middle East Eye (MEE) using phones smuggled into the 2.5 million square meter Shumaisi Detention Center in the coastal city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.
Scores of Rohingyas have been fleeing Myanmar since 2011, and increasingly since 2016, to escape mass genocide by majority Buddhists where they were banned from obtaining Burmese passports.
In order to reach Saudi Arabia, many Rohingyas resorted to illegal ways of obtaining passports of other countries, mainly Bangladeshi. Some other Rohingyas entered Saudi Arabia on passports from different South Asian countries, including Bhutan, India, Pakistan, and Nepal.
After arrival, their fingerprints were scanned and registered to the passport. They are now at risk of being deported to these countries they have never been to.
The detained Rohingyas that spoke to MEE were arrested for being wrongly documented when their places of labor were raided up to five years ago and have been in prison ever since. They began a hunger strike last Saturday to demand their freedom.
"We have only one demand, and that is our freedom," said Hasan (name changed), a Rohingya detainee said.
"The Saudis are saying that they can deport us to the countries where our fingerprints are registered, but we are telling them that we can't go back. If we are not free then we will go hungry and die."
At least six detainees have been hospitalized since the beginning of the hunger strike. Saudi prison authorities have retaliated by torturing them, taking away their blankets and bedding Monday.
"The air conditioning is on 24/7, and now they have taken away our pillows and bed sheets," said Hasan.
Video footage of the inside of the prison shows the imprisoned lying on metal frames with crawling bugs. Some detainees were put in a “hot room” to torture them into ending the hunger strike.
Nay San Lwin, a Rohingya activist with the Free Rohingya Coalition said, "This is the third time that 650 Rohingya detainees have gone on hunger strike to demand their freedom. Saudi Arabia has hosted more than 300,000 Rohingya refugees for decades. None of these refugees came to Saudi Arabia with a Burmese passport because citizenship was taken away from the Rohingya in 1982.”
Lwin said the Saudi government should release the detainees.
UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said they are "concerned" about the indefinate detention of the prisoners.
"UNHCR expressed its concern and sought confirmation about these reports of detention and deportation of substantive numbers of Myanmar Rohingyas," Marco Roggio, deputy regional representative of the UNHCR in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, told MEE.