Saudi sisters fled from their homeland hoping for a bright future
Two Saudi Arabian sisters are hoping for a “bright, beautiful future” after being granted asylum, fleeing what they describe as an abusive family and a repressive society. The sisters fled from their family last September while on holiday in Sri Lanka and have been stranded in Hong Kong since an aborted attempt to get to Australia, where they hoped to secure asylum.
For reasons of safety, the sisters, aged 18 and 20, who say they were beaten by their father and brothers, asked that their names and faces not be revealed, nor the country to which they have now gone.
The sisters spoke to Reuters in a room on the 22nd floor of a Hong Kong hotel shortly before they left the city. Hong Kong-based rights lawyer, Michael Vidler, who has been helping them, attended.
They said they had lived in fear for six months, shuttling between 15 safe houses, staying with a nun, families and at a shelter for abused women. They feared being intercepted by Saudi officials or relatives and forced to return home, where they believe they could be punished for renouncing Islam, which is punishable by death under the Saudi system of Islamic law.
The Saudi consulate in Hong Kong has not responded to requests for comment.
In a statement late on Monday, their lawywer confirmed the sisters had successfully traveled to a third country on “humanitarian visas”.
The sisters said they were treated harshly, at times beaten, by their brothers and father.
“They were like my jailer, like my prison officer. I was like a prisoner,” the younger sister previously told Reuters.
They were also critical of Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system that requires women to have a male relative’s permission to work, travel, marry, and even get some medical treatment.
“Women are just like slaves,” said the older sister, adding that her dream was to become a writer one day.“I want to settle down and to feel safe, and (to know) that I have rights and I matter in that country. Just to live normal, and discover myself … because now I own my life.”
The older sister counts George Orwell’s “1984” as one of her favorite books and likened its dystopian society to her homeland. “It’s a science fiction book but it’s real in Saudi,” she said.
The pair hatched their escape plan over several years, secretly hoarding about $5,000, partly by scrimping on items they were given money to buy, and had timed it to coincide with the younger sister’s 18th birthday.
They said they had been wracked with uncertainty as a deadline for them to leave Chinese-ruled Hong Kong passed last month. Amnesty International had urged Hong Kong authorities not to return the sisters to Saudi Arabia.
The younger sister, who counts Radiohead and Queen among her favorite bands, said she hoped to inspire young people to stand against social injustice. “Don’t just stick to the wall and cry. Because if you would cry it would be worse … Fight in your own way and you will find your own light.”
Dressed in a red T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, she said she had no regrets. “There’s a bright, beautiful future awaiting me.”
Photo: Sisters from Saudi Arabia, who go by aliases Reem and Rawan, are pictured in Hong Kong, China March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Yuyang Wang