Rights & Wrongs: Refugee pair tell of Saudi brutality

TWO IRAQI brothers, one a former health inspector, the other an accountant, have been granted political asylum in Britain after managing to escape from a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia.

They are Shia survivors of the uprising against Saddam Hussein in southern Iraq in March 1991. They fled into Saudi Arabia after the rebellion was crushed by the Republican Guard, leaving behind an elderly father, now in hiding, and five sisters.

The brothers - one 32, the other 27 - spent the first months in Saudi Arabia in a camp called Artawia, run by the Americans. When the United States pulled out, their camp and several others in the desert were handed over to the Saudi authorities. Today, more than a year later, 54,000 refugees, more than half of them Iraqis and Shia, (who form a minority which is much discriminated against in Saudi Arabia) are still living in these isolated camps. Accounts of the brutality with which the refugees are being treated are now emerging.

The elder of the two brothers tells his story.

'When the Saudis took over our camp there were 18,000 of us, mostly men between the ages of 20 and 35. Rafha, a camp nearby, had taken about 24,000 women, children and old people. We lived in tents surrounded by barbed wire, with guards in towers with machine guns. Everything changed when the Americans left. Suddenly we were treated as enemies. They circled the camps with tanks. Guards knocked us about; a few people died. We heard that in Rafha guards were raping women, and when relations tried to intervene they were shot.

'I have an ulcer and needed medical treatment. The camps had no hospital and no doctors, though a couple of Iraqi refugees were doctors and they were allowed to set up a medical tent. But they weren't given any medicines. A diabetic friend of mine died. Others got scabies and typhoid.

'In August last year, our camp went on hunger strike because of the ill-treatment. The Saudi army searched for the ringleaders and executed two men. I was put into manacles and leg irons and hit with electric batons. They made us stay in the sun for hours every day. The temperature was about 50C. Then, some of us were driven to the Iraqi border and pushed across. They were caught by the Iraqis and executed. Why doesn't anybody do anything? Don't they know what is happening to us?'

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