This report is based on interviews conducted by MR with migrants who were recently detained at the Al-Hidd deportation centre, supplemented by discussions with migrant community representatives in Bahrain.
As Bahrain intensifies detention and deportation campaigns targeting migrants with irregular status, it continues to house detainees in its overcrowded primary deportation centre, where migrants endure deplorable conditions.
Situated in the industrial area of the Dry Dock, south of Al-Hidd town, the multi-storey structures now serving as Bahrain’s deportation centre previously functioned as a Covid-19 quarantine facility operated by the Health Ministry. Midway through the pandemic, the centre was transformed into a migrant deportation facility. Initially designated for women, it has now expanded to accommodate male migrants as well.
“I gave birth on Sunday and was taken to the police station on Tuesday, and then two days after I was in Hidd deportation centre.”
The case of two Kenyan mothers
Rose*, a Kenyan domestic worker, was ‘returned’ to her recruitment agent in Manama after her employer no longer needed her services. While waiting for another employer to hire her, she informed the agency that she couldn’t afford to go any longer without a salary and requested permission to look for a job on her own.
Her agent, who had become now her sponsor once she returned to the agency, asked for BD600 (US$ 1,600) to issue a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to allow her to change sponsors and get back her confiscated passport. With limited options, she decided to leave the agency and stay with her cousin. Eventually, she secured an irregular cleaning job in a hotel in Manama.
Rose later became pregnant and decided to stop working at the hotel three months before her due date to focus on her well-being. In September 2023, she had a caesarean birth at Salmaniya Hospital. Due to her irregular immigration status, she was detained by authorities just a couple of days post-partum.
“I gave birth on Sunday and was taken to the police station on Tuesday, and then two days after I was in Hidd deportation centre.”
Rose told MR that her baby was born premature and required care in an incubator. During this time, she was not allowed to be near her child as she was taken to the detention centre. A week after giving birth, she was finally reunited with her child in the deportation centre, where they stayed for a couple of months.
Migrant representatives and community activists told MR that public health clinics and hospitals began notifying immigration authorities about migrants on irregular status last year. This practice diverges from accounts previously documented by MR in which irregular migrants were typically discharged from hospitals after childbirth or after receiving other healthcare services, without being reported to immigration, unless a communicable disease was detected. The government has still not issued any publicly available directives regarding the healthcare providers’ obligation to report to immigration authorities.
Mary*, another Kenyan mother in the deportation centre, worked as a domestic worker under harsh conditions without any days off. Five years ago, she decided to leave her employer’s household for a live-out cleaning job. After many years of navigating irregular work in Bahrain, dealing with wage theft, and struggling with the rising cost of living, Mary and her two-year-old voluntarily reported to the police station. In a few days, she found herself placed in the Al-Hidd deportation centre.
Mary endured an extended stay in the deportation centre for several months because Bahrain’s immigration authorities do not provide tickets for the children of migrant workers. As outlined in Article 27 of LMRA’s 2006 law, the Ministry of Interior’s relevant department is responsible for undertaking the deportation at the expense of the Labour Market Regulatory Authority. Subsequently, the LMRA recoups these expenses from the worker’s last sponsor.
Bahrain’s deportation and residency regulations do not explicitly address the situation of migrant children, particularly those with irregular status who are not registered with immigration and not sponsored. Consequently, these children, along with their mothers, may find themselves spending long periods in deportation centres until migrant community groups or friends and relatives to step in to cover the costs of flight tickets. Typically, Bahraini authorities do not deport mothers without their minor children.
According to a lawyer in Bahrain who spoke to MR, there is no legal obligation for sponsors or the government to shoulder the repatriation expenses for migrant children who are not sponsored. “The expectation in such cases is that migrant parents should bear these costs.” However, the reality is that low-income migrants who find themselves detained in deportation centres lack the financial means to cover the expenses associated with the deportation of their children. This includes not only the cost of tickets but also registration fees at the Nationality, Passports, and Residence Affairs, along with the issuance of emergency documents.
A community advocate, who requested anonymity, believes that the government should bear the expenses for such cases on humanitarian grounds, adding that “covering the ticket costs for children is not only more compassionate but also economically advantageous for the government. When considering the food and shelter expenses the government incurs to host these families for an extended period, it often exceeds the cost of the flight ticket itself, especially considering that discounted ticket prices are usually available for minors.”
“You can be dying, and they will just be there sitting on the ground floor, laughing and watching you through the camera.”
Lack of Access to Healthcare and Basic Necessities
Both Rose and Mary complained to MR about the lack of healthcare for both themselves and their babies at the detention centre.
Rose and her premature newborn were scheduled for a check-up at Salmaniya Hospital two weeks later. However, she informed MR that the authorities at Al-Hidd did not take her to the hospital for her scheduled check-up.
When Rose’s child fell ill with a high fever, the authorities continued to deny healthcare. “I stood downstairs, knocking on the door many times, asking them to take the child to the hospital, but they did not care…You could be in pain all night, and they wouldn’t respond.”
MR spoke to an Ethiopian woman in the deportation centre who expressed similar concerns about lack of access to healthcare when she fell very ill. “You can be dying, and they will just be there sitting on the ground floor, laughing and watching you through the camera.”
Another migrant rights advocate in Bahrain confirmed to MR that migrants in deportation facilities lack access to essential medications. “Medicines are not available there. Several times, I had to call immigration and send doctor’s notes, informing them that I needed to get medicine for the people inside. We need permission from the immigration officers to provide medicine. Only then do the security guards allow medicines and sanitary items to be dropped off at the facility.”
MR spoke to a couple of migrants queuing next to the deportation centre who were carrying medicine and sanitary products for their friends and relatives inside the facility. One male Indian national brought a plastic bag with a number written on it, indicating a permission code given by immigration authorities to bring specific items to the inmates. “My friend inside has heart problems, and I brought medicine for him.”
In addition to the lack of medicine, two women in the deportation centre reported that the facility does not provide essential female hygiene products. Community representatives stepped in to supply sanitary pads for them. One representative from an African country shared with MR that some women are compelled to share toothbrushes and underwear, as they lack support from individuals outside.
Rose told MR that during the initial weeks in the deportation centre, she struggled to produce enough milk for her infant. “It was the worst day of my life; I begged the officers to provide baby milk, but they did not care … Fortunately, my cousin brought some baby milk.”
The Bahraini government appears to be placing greater emphasis on the criminalisation of workers rather than their protection.
Crowded and Troubling Conditions
Since the beginning of this year, Bahrain has intensified its immigration raids and deportation efforts. According to Bahrain’s Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA), 329 joint inspection campaigns were conducted alongside several government entities in the first half of 2023, reflecting a 291% increase compared to the same time last year. Subsequently, 2,112 irregular migrant workers were deported—a fourfold surge compared to the corresponding period in the previous year. The number of deportees reported includes only those apprehended during joint LMRA raids.
The Bahraini government appears to be placing greater emphasis on the criminalisation of workers rather than their protection. This is evident in the intensified immigration raids, which stand in stark contrast to the lack of labour inspections for domestic workers who often endure abusive conditions that push them into an irregular status. Meanwhile, the inspection mechanism for the private sector remains notably inadequate and limited in its scope.
Women in the deportation centre highlighted overcrowding issues, citing a shortage of mattresses and bathrooms to cover all inmates. This observation was supported by a migrant rights advocate who told MR, “The deportation centre is overcrowded, both the male and female sections. The capacity for the women’s section is particularly low, making the situation even more challenging there.”
Thee precise number of inmates remains unclear as the government does not release data on the centre, but the women estimate the count to be in the hundreds. According to Rose, “The building has three floors, with each floor containing nine rooms. On our floor alone, there were more than 100 of us, around 20 in each room.”
“There was not enough mattress for everybody, some people were sleeping on the floor. The mattresses were also not good, it was like sleeping on a slice of bread, you always wake up with back pain.”
Rose and Mary both told MR that they were struggling to wash their babies in the bathrooms because they were always occupied. “There are only five bathrooms for the whole building, it is always occupied.” They further added, “When the babies make a mess on the mattress they don’t give us new sheets, we are forced to clean it with tissue and sleep on it.”
They also reported that the deportation facility lacked designated rooms for mothers and their infants. This absence resulted in heightened tension among the inmates, as the crying babies disrupted others’ ability to sleep at night.
According to a migrant community representative, there was a recent incident involving a Kenyan woman who was allegedly slapped by a female officer at the facility after expressing dissatisfaction with the conditions. She was swiftly deported the following day to prevent any further altercations between them.
The absence of facilities to store possessions also pose an issue, with detainees dependent on community assistance to bring their belongings from their homes to the airport when departing. A migrant rights advocate mentioned that before the COVID-19 pandemic, the detention centre permitted the storage of migrants’ belongings in a designated facility, but this practice has since been discontinued.
“There are no visitors allowed, that’s the main issue. Before COVID-19, the deportation centre was more relaxed, and they were allowed to store luggage for personal items. But now they don’t allow anything, on the day that you are deported, you must have someone to bring your luggage and belongings at the airport.”
The advocate, who also assists with exit permits for one of the embassies in Bahrain, highlighted a substantial delay in the deportation facility’s process for transporting migrants without passports to their embassy for the issuance of exit permits. The advocate mentioned, “Previously, embassy representatives were allowed to come to the centre, but that’s no longer the case. Now, we have to wait for the authorities to bring the undocumented worker to the embassy for the issuance of the outpass [Emergency exit document] and it takes a long time.”
Indicators of forced labour are consistently overlooked by authorities in detention and deportation centres, as well as by front-line police officers.
Lack of Screening for Trafficking Indicators
None of the individuals interviewed indicated that they were ever asked about experiencing abuse or trafficking by their sponsors. This is noteworthy, especially considering that the women reported instances of wage theft, passport confiscation, and extortion of money for No Objection Certificates by the sponsor.
Despite maintaining Tier 1 status in the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report for six consecutive years, Bahrain repeatedly fails to screen migrants for trafficking indicators or provide them with translators and interpreters when they are arrested for their irregular status.
Bahrain’s perspective on human trafficking is narrowly focused, primarily addressing victims of sex trafficking, with certain limitations even within that context. Indicators of forced labour are consistently overlooked by authorities in detention and deportation centres, as well as by front-line police officers. Bahrain only recently on 26 October 2023 added the director of the Labour Relations of the Ministry of Labour to its National Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons.
Many migrants in Bahrain end up in irregular status through no fault of their own due to the inflexible Kafala system, which links migrant workers’ residency and legal status. MR has documented cases where migrant workers were arrested in immigration raids in Bahrain and sent to deportation centres simply because their sponsors failed to pay the LMRA fees on time. This dynamic also extends to workers in the Labour Registration Program, who, despite not being officially sponsored by employers, can fall into an irregular status if they fail to pay the programme’s steep fees.
Migrant-Rights.Org strongly urges the Bahraini government to conduct a thorough investigation into the conditions of its detention and deportation centres. Additionally, MR calls for the provision of inmates with access to medication and basic necessities, the screening of inmates for indicators of human trafficking, and the provision of flight tickets to children of migrants.
Importantly, migrants should also be provided with lawyers who can assume power of attorney. Legal representation is crucial for challenging deportation charges and collecting any outstanding dues from their sponsors.