Saudi women, tired of re­straints, find ways to flee coun­try

The Idaho Statesman - - Obituaries / News - BY BEN HUBBARD AND RICHARD C. PADDOCK

When­ever her fa­ther beat her, or bound her wrists and an­kles to pun­ish her for per­ceived dis­obe­di­ence, the Saudi teenager dreamed of es­cape, she said.

As des­per­ate as she was to leave, how­ever, the same ques­tion al­ways stopped her short: How would she get out?

If she ran away any­where within the coun­try, Saudi po­lice would just send her home, she feared. Saudi law barred her from trav­el­ing abroad with­out her fa­ther’s per­mis­sion.

But dur­ing a fam­ily va­ca­tion in Turkey when she was 17, Sha­had alMuhaimeed saw her chance, and bolted. While her fam­ily slept, she took a taxi across the bor­der to Ge­or­gia and de­clared her­self a refugee, leav­ing Saudi Ara­bia be­hind to start a new life.

“I now live the way I want to,” said Muhaimeed, 19, by phone from her new home in Swe­den. “I live in a good place that has women’s rights.”

World at­ten­tion was drawn to the sta­tus of Saudi women af­ter an­other teenager, Ra­haf Alqu­nun, was stopped in Thai­land last week while try­ing to make it to Aus­tralia to seek refuge there. Af­ter an in­ter­na­tional so­cial me­dia cam­paign, the United Na­tions de­clared her a refugee Wed­nes­day. She left Thai­land on Fri­day and flew to Canada, where of­fi­cials said she had been granted asy­lum.

The phe­nom­e­non of women try­ing to flee Saudi Ara­bia is not new, com­ing to the world’s at­ten­tion as early as the 1970s, when a Saudi princess was caught try­ing to flee the king­dom with her lover. The cou­ple were tried for adul­tery and ex­e­cuted.

But the num­ber of young women con­sid­er­ing and tak­ing the enor­mous risk to flee Saudi Ara­bia ap­pears to have grown in re­cent years, rights groups say, as women frus­trated by so­cial and le­gal con­straints at home turn to so­cial me­dia to help plan, and some­times doc­u­ment, their ef­forts to es­cape.

“All these women who 15 years ago would have never been heard from can now find a way to reach out,” said Adam Coogle, who mon­i­tors Saudi Ara­bia for Hu­man Rights Watch.

Some who dare to leave slip out qui­etly, trav­el­ing to the United States or else­where be­fore ap­ply­ing for asy­lum – which is never a sure thing. Since be­ing stopped in Turkey in 2017, two sis­ters, Ash­waq and Areej Hamoud, 31 and 29 re­spec­tively, have been fight­ing a de­por­ta­tion or­der in court, say­ing they fear for their lives if they re­turn to Saudi Ara­bia.

The women who make it out must con­tend not only with their fam­i­lies’ ef­forts to force them home, but also with the Saudi gov­ern­ment’s ex­ten­sive and well-fi­nanced ef­forts to do so, often in­volv­ing lo­cal diplo­mats press­ing for repa­tri­a­tion.

Women who are repa­tri­ated can face crim­i­nal charges of parental dis­obe­di­ence or harm­ing the king­dom’s rep­u­ta­tion.

“As Saudi women, we are still treated as prop­erty that be­longs to the state,” said Moudi Aljo­hani, who moved to the United States as a stu­dent and has ap­plied for asy­lum. “It doesn’t mat­ter if the woman has any po­lit­i­cal views or not. They are go­ing to go af­ter her and forcibly re­turn her.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.