Australia 'colluding' with Riyadh, and turning back Saudi women

Australia 'colluding' with Riyadh, and barring entry to Saudi women travelling alone
3 min read
04 February, 2019
Australia's Border Police have been accused of colluding with the Saudi male guardianship system, turning back women alone and suspected of seeking asylum at Australian airports.
Australia has become a magnet for asylum seekers from Saudi Arabia [Getty]
Australia's Border Police have been accused of colluding with the Saudi male guardianship system, turning back Saudi women travelling solo and suspected of seeking asylum from Australian airports.

The accusations were made to Australia's  programme, which said it has evidence of "at least two young Saudi women who arrived at Sydney airport in the past two years and who made their asylum claims clear to Australian Border Force officials but were sent back".

Four Corners said Saudi women arriving at Australian airports alone are being asked by Border Force officials why they are not accompanied by a male guardian.

The programme, which aired on Monday in Australia, highlights how Canberra became a magnet for Saudi women fleeing the ultra-conservative country's oppressive male guardianship system.

The report comes on the heels of an investigation this week that revealed the Saudi government is running an app that allows male guardians to track and block the travel of Saudi female 'dependents'. 

The spotlight on Riyadh is illuminating what many are calling Saudi Arabia's own refugee crisis, triggered in part by the chilling effect of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's crackdown on freedoms and failed promises of reform especially regarding the male guardianship system.

According to a CNN report on Sunday citing the UNHCR's public records, Saudi refugees and asylum-seekers totaled 2,392 in 2017 alone. The report also observed a spike in the numbers coinciding with the rise of Mohammed bin Salman.

The report said five countries hosted the majority of these Saudis: the United States (1,143), Canada (453), Australia (191), the United Kingdom (184) and Germany (147).

Around 1,000 Saudi women attempt to flee the kingdom each year, according to figures quoted by experts to the Insider.

Rahaf Mohammed, the Saudi woman who managed to successfully flee her allegedly abusive family, was the most high-profile case in recent years. Her ordeal shed new light on the countless women trapped under the abusive male guardianship system in the kingdom.

Women face systematic discrimination and are left exposed to domestic violence under the male guardianship system and have few places to turn when they face abuse, leading some women to undertake dangerous escape attempts to flee the country.

Under the male guardianship system, a man controls a Saudi woman's life from her birth until her death.

Every Saudi woman must have a male guardian, normally a father or husband, but in some cases a brother or even a son, who has the power to make a range of critical decisions on her behalf. The Saudi state essentially treats women as permanent legal minors, activists say.

Saudi Arabia has done very little to end the system, which remains the most significant impediment to women's rights in the country.