Disturbing photos of abuse of mentally disabled patients in a Saudi centre

Screen grab from a photomontage showing the abuse of mentally handicapped people in a centre in Douasser.
 
The photos, taken in a centre for the mentally disabled in the city of Douasser, have been making the rounds online in Saudi Arabia. They reveal the degrading conditions in which some mentally handicapped people must live in the Saudi kingdom.
 
The video is entitled: “This is how our children are treated in the Douasser rehabilitation centre.”Douasser is a region in southern Saudi Arabia.
 
 Editor's note: faces of people in this video have been intentionally blurred.
 
The mission of the centre, which is public and free, is to care for mentally disabled patients. The first photo shows an adolescent tied to a railing. On another picture, a young man is tied to a bed with pieces of cloth. Yet others show naked patients waiting to take a group shower. Some patients can be seen eating off of the floor. The photomontage ends with a photo of a completely naked patient in what appears to be the centre’s courtyard.

“It reveals a complete lack of professionalism”

Madiha (not her real name) is a caretaker in France for people with mental and psychological disabilities. She travelled to Saudi Arabia to train staff in how to take care of mentally disabled people.
 
It is crucial to know the context of each photo in order to understand what was going on. For instance, sometimes the patients strip naked and we have to catch them to get them dressed again. But these photos reveal a complete lack of professionalism. First of all, I am shocked that these patients were photographed in such intimate, personal states. And some of these scenes are just unconscionable. One photo shows a patient tied to a railing with a staircase right behind him. And then there are photos of patients eating by themselves right off the ground. Sometimes patients do want to eat on the floor, but it’sprecisely the role of the staff to stay with them and get them to eat in the right position.
 
The video quickly went viral on social networks and caused such a backlash that, on Tuesday, the Saudi Ministry of Social Affairs announced that it was launching an investigation.

“I hope that foreign caretakers are not held solely responsible for this”

Ghazi al-Massaari, a Douasser resident, is one of the first journalists to have investigated these photos. He fears that the caretakers, who are typically foreign staff without any qualifications, will be scapegoated.
  
Members of the investigatory committee visited the rehabilitation centre and audited the staff. I am of course pleased with the authorities’ quick reaction. That said, I hope that foreign caretakers are not held solely responsible for these abuses. The centre has many supervisory staff members that are in charge of overseeing and managing the work of the caretakers.
 
I do not know whether or not the centre’s managers or the regional Director of Social Affairs were aware of the abuse, but they must be held accountable.
 
In Saudi Arabia, rehabilitation centres for the mentally handicapped are often poorly run.
 
Media outlets frequently uncover stories of patient abuse. Last September already, a story revealing several cases of abuse in a centre in the Jizan region caused a stir in Saudi Arabia. Since then, the director of social affairs in the region was sacked. But it seems that no one learn their lesson.
 
When reached by FRANCE 24, Khaled Ben Dakhilallah Thbiti, a communications officer for the Ministry of Social Affairs, claimed that the investigation commissioned by his department audited the caretakers as well as the supervisory staff that manages them. He also explained that those employees found to have committed abuses would be fired and could also be sued.
 
Saudi Arabia has about forty centres for physically and mentally handicapped people, ranging in capacity from 150 to 1,500 patients. Last October, the government authorized the creation of private rehabilitation centres in order to overcome the lack of space in public centres.
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