Saudi sisters stranded in HK after attempting to flee kingdom

February 22, 2019 14:30
A planned brief stopover has turned into a more than five-month-long stay in Hong Kong for two young Saudi women who had sought to flee their country. Photos: Reuters, CNN/screenshot

Hong Kong police are grappling with two young women from Saudi Arabia who found themselves stranded in the city for over five months after a failed attempt to flee to Australia last September.

The women, two sisters aged 20 and 18, claim they went into hiding after being intercepted by Saudi officials at the Hong Kong airport while trying to flee their conservative Islamic country.

Alerted by the family, who sought the return of their daughters to the kingdom, Saudi officials are said to have cancelled the women's passports, putting the sisters in a situation where they cannot leave for any other country.

According to reports, the two fled to Hong Kong last year from a family holiday in Sri Lanka, reportedly after suffering abuse and renouncing Islam, which carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

Buying tickets at the Colombo airport, they arrived in Hong Kong on September 6 and prepared to transfer to Australia, only to find that the connecting flight to Australia had been canceled.

As they were waiting at the airport, they were said to have been intercepted by Saudi consular officials, who are believed to have been alerted by the women's uncle back in Saudi Arabia about the attempt to flee.

The consular staff found the women at the airport and allegedly attempted to place them on a flight to Riyadh.

After failing to board a send flight to Australia and fearing possible abduction, the sisters left Hong Kong airport to enter the city as visitors.  

Since then, they have been in hiding, changing locations 13 times for fear of their safety, Agence France-Presse reported, citing a statement released by a lawyer on Thursday.

The women were said to have become worried as the Hong Kong police reportedly tried to take them to meet with male relatives and Saudi officials.

According to one account, after they escaped from the Saudi consular staff, they were accused of stealing money, causing Australia's immigration department to cancel the sisters' travel visa to the country.

Afraid of being forced back to Saudi, the sisters have been holed up in Hong Kong since then. 

In a statement shared by Michael Vidler, a prominent lawyer in Hong Kong, the sisters said they hope they can be given asylum in a country which recognizes women's rights and treats them as equals, RTHK reported.

After the September travel incident, the sisters managed to leave the Hong Kong airport and checked into a hotel in the city before the police found them four days later and took them to a police station for questioning.

According to reports, the police moves came as the women's father and uncle made trips to Hong Kong and called on the police to find the missing family members.

The women were allegedly questioned for six hours. As they did not want to return to Riyadh, and refused to see their father and uncle, the police could do nothing but send them back to the hotel. They have been illegal aliens since.

According to RTHK, as their passports have been canceled, and they can only stay in Hong Kong until next Thursday, the women have filed application for an emergency visa to a third country.

The duo is also said to be seeking assistance from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The case has emerged a month after an 18-year-old Saudi woman, Rahaf al-Qunun, drew global attention in January with her dramatic escape from an allegedly abusive Saudi family, as AFP noted.

After fleeing her family and getting stranded at the Bangkok airport, where she barricaded herself into an airport hotel room, Rahaf eventually flew to Canada after being granted asylum status.

-- Contact us at [email protected]