WASHINGTON — An American who sought refuge in the U.S. consulate in Jeddah with her two Saudi-born children testified to a congressional subcommittee yesterday she was rejected because her case was not worth risking relations with Riyadh.
Sarah Saga, 23, kidnapped as a child by her Saudi father and brought to the kingdom, then forced to remain there for years, told the House panel U.S. officials “were trying to convince me that I had no options.”
“The people at the consulate were acting as if they worked for the Saudis,” said Saga, who returned to the U.S. and reunited with her mother June 24.
The homecoming was bittersweet, however, because she had to leave behind her two young children, Ibrahim, 5, and Hanin, 3, in Saudi Arabia with their father.
“As much as I was happy to be reunited with my mother, I was so sad that I was forced to leave my babies behind,” Saga said through tears to the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness hearing, which was attended by WorldNetDaily.
Saga noted her mother, Debra Dornier, was told the U.S. could not risk relations with Saudi Arabia for one child. Also, Saga said she was instructed to avoid the media because it might embarrass the consulate.
Ranking committee member Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., promised to pursue the issue.
“Embassies should treat Americans with respect and compassion, make sure they know their rights and intercede for them,” Watson said.
Sought safe haven
Saga cannot transfer her American citizenship to her children, because under the current law, parents must have lived in the United States five years, with two of those years being after the age of 14.
In her testimony, Saga told the panel how thankful she was to be home and explained what she had suffered since her abduction 18 years ago.
While in Saudi Arabia, Sarah was beaten by her father, emotionally abused and mistreated by her stepmother and other family members, starved for days at a time, locked in her bedroom for two years and forced into a marriage.
Subcommittee Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., characterized the human rights situation in the desert kingdom.
“Because of the lack of protection provided by the legal system in Saudi Arabia, Americans kidnapped to that country are deprived of many of the rights that they would be protected by in the United States, such as women’s rights and religious freedom, in addition to their inability to escape their unlawful imprisonment,” he said.
Saga fled to the American consulate in Jeddah on June 15, seeking a safe haven and assistance in getting herself and her two children out of Saudi Arabia.
However, she was not received warmly and consulate officials suggested she return to her family. Saga refused, fearing for her life if her father discovered she had tried to flee.
At the hearing, Saga was asked whether or not anyone at the consulate took the time to clearly explain her legal rights as an American citizen.
“Nobody at all talked to me about my legal rights,” she said.
Saga also said no one at the consulate advised her not to sign a document presented by the Saudi government that, in effect, stripped her of rights to her children.
When Saga insisted she had made a mistake by signing the declaration, the consulate prepared a statement for her the next day which stated in part, “I simply intended to reflect my understanding of what I had been told by the government of Saudi Arabia. I did not intend permanently to waive my right at some later time to demand custody of my children.”
The invited representative from the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia did not attend the House hearing, but issued a written statement into the record, insisting the government of Saudi Arabia is fully committed to resolving child custody issues.
The subcommittee also heard testimony from Maura Harty, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, who said the State Department was making progress resolving international child abduction cases.
Citing the fact seven children have returned to the United States since January, Harty emphasized the need for the continued and improved use of available tools, such as denying visas to parental abductors and their extended families.
“The more pressure points we can find, the better.” Harty said.
Saga’s husband allows her to hear her children’s voices in the background during telephone calls, but will not let her speak to them.
“He’s already cutting my children from me,” Saga said.
She believes there are many more American women like herself who desperately want to flee Saudi Arabia, but are too afraid to come forward.
Get the ultimate Saudi expose: “At Any Price,” by Pat Roush