Saudi sisters stuck in Georgia ask the world for help

Two Saudi sisters who fled to Georgia to escape what they say are oppressive lives in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to seek asylum in the country, according to a Georgian government statement given to international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch. In their statement, the Georgian authorities “indicat[e] the two sisters will seek asylum in Georgia. Since Georgia has ratified the UN Refugee Convention, the government itself will do the refugee status determination and provide protection,” according to Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch.As you read here first on the RFI website, sisters Mahal al-Subaie, 28 and Wafa al-Subaie, 25 had fled to Georgia, seeking asylum, but asked for help directly on social media after they had posted that the Saudi government had canceled their passports and their father and brothers were in Georgia, looking for them.“We would like to clarify, that family members, to whom Al-Subaie sisters are referring as posing a risk for them, are not in Georgia at the moment,” said the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs letter, seen by RFI.“We do not have any way to determine that, one way or another, but if the relatives are not there – well, that is certainly a good thing,” said Robertson.“The great fear is the Saudi Arabian government, working with the family, will use its influence to try and reacquire these women and force them back into harm’s way in Saudi,” he added.The Interior Ministry letter pointed out that the sisters were visited by Georgian law enforcement staff who offered assistance, but they initially did not want to seek asylum within Georgia. “After the Al-Subaie sisters received the information and certain clarifications from Migration Department, they agreed to visit the Division on Refugee Issues of the Migration Department to undergo necessary procedures on asylum seeking as stipulated by Georgian legislation,” according to the letter. According to the Georgian government, they will be allowed to apply for asylum, but this does not erase the fear for other women who want to leave the Kingdom.“No one should forget the core problem is Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship laws which place women at the mercy of rights abusing men and authorities,” said Robertson.“As long as these discriminatory, rights violating laws and policies remain in force in Saudi Arabia, more women will try to flee to gain their freedom and rights.”

Two Saudi sisters are pleading for help on social media as they are stuck in Georgia after having their passports allegedly cancelled by Saudi Arabia.

They say they fear for their lives after learning that family members have arrived in Georgia to take them back.

Referring to themselves as the Georgia sisters, Mahal al-Subaie, 28 and Wafa al-Subaie, 25, are the latest runaways from the kingdom to turn to social media for help.

On their Twitter feed, they have posted photos of their passports to confirm their identities.

In one video, one of the sisters says their father and brothers have arrived in Georgia to look for them.

She then asks for help and protection by the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, who was also quite involved in the case of two girls who sought refuge in Hong Kong and before then with Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun , says if it is true that the father and brother have arrived to Georgia, then the only option for the girls is that they hide until they get official protection.

He adds that this was the case for the girls in Hong Kong who had to hide for months while their family tried to find them.

Roberston confirmed that HRW offices in Georgia were contacted Wednesday morning to find someone to help the sisters.

Saudi has in the past pursued women leaving the country claiming persecution and tried to force them back.

One example that often comes up is Dina Ali Lasloom.

She made it as far as the Philippines in 2017, but was then forced back to the kingdom.

To this day, her whereabouts and condition remain unknown.

Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system

The Male Guardianship system in Saudi Arabia is the only one of its kind on the world.

In 2016, Human Rights Watch released a report, entitled ‘Boxed-in women and Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system' depicting the harsh impact of the system on women.

An article released by the organistion on January 30 reminded people that while other countries in the Middle East may have elements of the system, Saudi Arabia’s is by far the most “draconian in the extent of its law and regulations.”

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman Al-Saud is trying to be seen as a reformer in women’s rights, beginning with the authorisation to allow women to drive last year in July.

But Michael Page, the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch says the plight hundreds of others only shows how laughably at odds this is from reality when the authorities try to hunt down fleeing women and torture women’s rights activists in prison.

Activists on trial

In fact a long-awaited trial of 11 female activists in the Kindgom was adjourned on Wednesday without any reason offered.

Many of these women were arrested in a crackdown just before Riyadh finally granted women the right to drive in 2018.

In fact many of them had been involved in pushing for the right to drive.

After their arrest, they were labelled as traitors in the official Saudi press.

While in prison, the women have accused their interrogators of sexual abuse and torture.

Loujain al-Hathloul in particular has spoken up against her treatment. She faces charges that include contact with foreign media, diplomats and human rights groups.

An ad-hoc panel of British Parliamentarians sought access to eight of the jailed women to assess their situation in jail.

In February they released a report detailing the cruel and inhuman conditions that many of them have met under Saudi law.

Nine of the women were detained without charge, though some expected charges could include sentences of up to 20 years.

According to Human Rights Watch, the nine women are: Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Hatoon al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Nassema al-Sadah, and Amal al-Harbi.

Stay or go

Under a system where a woman has no recourse for any abuse she incurs or where her right to freedom of choice are cut because of the guardianship rules, there are not many options.

Either she lives in pain and frustration, risks speaking up and potentially be arrested, or tries to flee the kingdom.

The latter option has become more and more popular as the stories of others who have succeeded in making it out prompt others to risk the same.

Added to that is the growing social media network of women and who are trying to help these women get protection once they’ve left Saudi Arabia.

An online movement organized and managed by non-Saudis called World Citizens for Saudi Women posts daily videos, photos, and words sent by the women themselves through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.