‘I own my life’

Stranded in Hong Kong for 6 months, Saudi sisters finally granted asylum from ‘slavery’

Sisters from Saudi Arabia, who go by aliases Reem and Rawan, are pictured in Hong Kong on March 20, 2019. (REUTERS/Yuyang Wang)

Two young Saudi Arabian women have reportedly found asylum in a new country after spending half a year stranded in Hong Kong following a failed attempt to escape into Australia.

Speaking confidentially to Reuters, the sisters, aged 18 and 20, said they had spent the past 6 months bouncing between the homes of various families, 15 safe houses, and a shelter for abused women in order to avoid being forcibly repatriated by Saudi officials before they obtained asylum.

They were seeking asylum after enduring years of beatings from their brothers and father, who under Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship law had legal control over nearly every aspect of their lives. The pair said they feared they might be killed if returned home because they had both renounced Islam — a crime punishable by death under Saudi law.

In a statement issued on Monday, Hong Kong-based rights lawyer Michael Vidler confirmed that the sisters had safely travelled to a third country on “humanitarian visas.” Writing on the Facebook page of his law firm, he said that he wouldn’t name the country to which they had fled or share any further details about their case in order “to ensure their future security.”

In previous interviews with Reuters, the younger sister had described living life “like a prisoner” at home with her brothers and father, who she called her jailers. The older sister, who says she hopes to become a professional writer, likened life for women in Saudi Arabia to George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984.

“It’s a science fiction book, but it’s real in Saudi,” she said. “Women are just like slaves … 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 10th Annual Women in the World New York Summit will include an interview with women actively resisting Saudi Arabia’s oppressive regime, moderated by documentary maker Alex Gibney, (April 10-12, tickets available here.)

Read the full story at Reuters.

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