Fugitive Saudi sisters agree to apply for asylum in Georgia
TBILISI (AFP) – Georgian immigration officers have visited two Saudi sisters who pleaded for international help after fleeing the Kingdom and will help them apply for asylum, an official told AFP on Thursday.
The two women had issued pleas for international protection on a Twitter account called @GeorgiaSisters, saying they were “trapped in Georgia” after Saudi authorities cancelled their passports.
They posted photographs of their passports identifying themselves as 28-year-old Maha Alsubaie and 25-year-old Wafa Alsubaie.
“We are in danger,” Maha Alsubaie said in one video posted on Twitter. “Please help us.”
“We want to apply for asylum in any safe country,” one of the women said in another video that does not show her face. “If we go back to Saudi we will be killed.”
Georgia’s interior ministry spokesperson, Sopho Mdinaradze, told AFP that representatives of the ministry’s migration department “visited the women on Thursday and invited them to start asylum procedures.
“They can feel safe, the protection of their rights is guaranteed in Georgia,” Mdinaradze said.
The ministry said later in a statement that the women “agreed to move to a facility for asylum seekers to undergo the procedures envisaged by Georgian law.”
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said in an earlier statement that it was “closely monitoring” the women’s situation, while Human Rights Watch called on the Georgian authorities to protect them “from anyone who would harm them or force to return to Saudi Arabia against their will”.
The Saudi women began posting tweets about their situation on Tuesday, initially not revealing their identities.
Wafa Alsubaie said in a video that their father and brothers were already in Georgia and searching for them.
“We fled oppression from our family because the laws in Saudi Arabia (are) too weak to protect us,” she said.
The UNHCR’s Georgia office said on Facebook that anyone “requesting international protection in Georgia has access to a fair and effective asylum procedure”.
Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most restrictive countries for women.
In a similar case in March, another two Saudi sisters aged 20 and 18 who were marooned in Hong Kong arrived in a safe third country after securing humanitarian visas as they sought sanctuary from an abusive family.
At the beginning of the year, 18-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun drew global attention with her dramatic escape from an allegedly abusive family, gaining refugee status in Canada.
Many Saudi women who flee overseas have spoken to media and rights groups of persuasive and coercive tactics used by Saudi officials and family members to pursue those who escape.
Saudi woman to seek asylum after fleeing family to Thailand
Earlier, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family and barricaded herself inside a Bangkok airport hotel to prevent being expelled by Thai authorities has left the airport after talks with the United Nations refugee agency, an official said on Monday.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun has been at Bangkok’s international airport since Saturday when she arrived from Kuwait, saying she fears her family will kill her if she is forced to return home. Her relatives have not commented on her accusations of abuse and Reuters was not able to reach them.
The case has drawn new global attention to Saudi Arabia’s strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male “guardian” to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.
It comes at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of a journalist at its consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.
Thai immigration officials had planned to put Qunun on a flight back to Kuwait on Monday, but relented after her online pleas drew international attention.
She told Reuters via text and audio messages she had fled Kuwait during a family visit there, and had planned to travel to Australia to seek asylum. She said she was held after leaving her plane in Bangkok and told she would be sent back to Kuwait.
“They will kill me,” Qunun told Reuters. “My life is in danger. My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things.”
A representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) met Qunun at the airport and also discussed the case with Thai immigration officials. After the meeting, Thailand’s immigration chief said she would not be expelled.
“We will take her into Bangkok and provide her with safe shelter under the care of the UNHCR,” immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters on Monday evening.