Two more Saudi women flee 'abusive kingdom', plea for help from Georgia

Two more Saudi women flee 'abusive kingdom', plea for help from Georgia
4 min read
17 April, 2019
Two Saudi sisters appealed for help on social media from the former Soviet republic of Georgia after fleeing their country
We want a country that welcomes us and protects our rights [Twitter]

Two Saudi sisters have appealed for help on Wednesday from the former Soviet republic of Georgia after escaping from their country, in the latest case of Saudi women fleeing the ultra-conservative kingdom's restrictive laws on women.

The two sisters – identified themselves as Maha al-Subaie, 28, and Wafa al-Subaie, 25 – created a new Twitter account called "GeorgiaSisters" to highlight their plight.

Al-Subaies posted copies of their passports to establish their identities, in a similar move to what other Saudi women did after fleeing Saudi Arabia.

The two runaways say they are at risk of being murdered if they are forcibly returned to the kingdom, claiming their father and brothers have come to Georgia looking for them.

The youngest sister, Wafa, said they fled "oppression from our family," without giving much details.

"We are two Saudi sisters who fled from Saudi Arabia seeking asylum. Yet, the family and the Saudi government have suspended our passports and now we are trapped in Georgia country. We need your help please," the sisters said in their first post to the Twitter account on Tuesday evening.

In another post, the sisters appear with their faces showing and their hair uncovered, a taboo for ultra-conservative families in Saudi Arabia.

The sisters said they removed their scarves and showed their faces so that the world would "remember us" in the event something happens to them.

"We want your protection. We want a country that welcomes us and protects our rights," the eldest sister, Maha, said in a subsequent video posted on Twitter.

Her sister also posted a video calling for help from the UN refugee agency.

Wafa could be heard in the video saying "we fled oppression from our family because the laws in Saudi Arabia (are) too weak to protect us. We are seeking the UNHCR protection in order to be taken to a safe country."

The sisters did not elaborate why they have fled, but a Saudi activist who goes by the name Ms Saffaa told the AP that she and other activists have had direct contact with the sisters in Georgia.

Saudis can enter Georgia without visa, making it a transit country for Saudi women who have fled in recent years.

Georgia Sisters’ case mirrors that of the two sisters who fled to Hong Kong last month, drawing worldwide attention.

The Hong Kong sisters, aged 20 and 18, said they made a break from an abusive family during a holiday in Sri Lanka last September with the intention of heading for Australia, but they only made it as far as Hong Kong.

The pair -- who use the aliases Reem and Rawan -- said they were intercepted at the airport by Saudi consular officials and their air tickets cancelled. Fearful they might be abducted, they entered Hong Kong as visitors but later had their passports revoked, leaving them stranded in the semiautonomous Chinese city.

Early this year, 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, also was under world spotlight when she barricaded herself in an airport hotel room in Bangkok after fleeing her Saudi family during a trip to Kuwait. Her social media pleas on Twitter prompted quick action by the UNHCR and she was granted asylum in Canada.

Saudi women who flees the country are almost always escaping abusive male relatives and claim there are few good choices for them to report the abuse in Saudi Arabia.

If caught running away in the kingdom, they can be forced into restrictive shelters, pressured to reconcile with their abusers or detained on charges of disobedience and purportedly shaming their families.

The so-called male guardianship laws require women in Saudi Arabia, regardless of their age, to have the consent of a male relative to obtain a passport, travel or marry.

The new case comes amid what many are calling Saudi Arabia's own refugee crisis, triggered in part by the chilling effect of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's crackdown on freedoms and failed promises of reform especially with regard to the male guardianship system.

According to a CNN report citing the UNHCR's public records, Saudi refugees and asylum-seekers totaled 2,392 in 2017 alone. The report also observed a spike in the numbers coinciding with the rise of Mohammed bin Salman.

The report said five countries hosted the majority of these Saudis: the United States (1,143), Canada (453), Australia (191), the United Kingdom (184) and Germany (147).

Around 1,000 Saudi women attempt to flee the kingdom each year, according to figures quoted by experts to the Insider.

Read more: Saudi Arabia: 10 Reasons Why Women Flee