Stranded Saudi sisters granted extended stay to seek refuge
Two Saudi sisters stuck in Hong Kong after fleeing alleged abuse at home have been granted an extended stay in the Asian city until next month. The siblings are urgently seeking refuge in a third country but face deportation to Saudi Arabia, where the say they could face the death penalty.
The unidentified siblings, aged 18 and 20 and known under the aliases Reem and Rawan, are the latest example of Saudi women escaping the ultra-conservative kingdom only to find themselves stranded in foreign countries and making public appeals for their safe passage to third countries.
Reem and Rawan said they have renounced Islam and fled violent family abuse and possible prosecution in their home country. Apostasy is a crime punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.
The sisters said they escaped their family during a holiday in Sri Lanka in September, with the intention of traveling to Australia.
They say they were were intercepted at Hong Kong airport by Saudi consular officials and their air tickets cancelled. The pair also had their passports cancelled, leaving them stranded in the city.
Their stay as visitors in Hong Kong was due to expire at the end of February.
As that deadline loomed, the sisters launched a fresh appeal last week asking Hong Kong authorities to allow them to remain while they continued their campaign to seek emergency rescue visas from a third country.
The pair's law firm Vidler & Co Solicitors said on Thursday the immigration department had agreed to allow the siblings to stay until 8 April.
"The Director of Immigration now asserts that despite being tolerated, the sisters are liable to prosecution and removal as overstayers", the statement said.
Reem and Rawan said they are "in constant fear of being found by the Saudi authorities and our family and forced to return to Saudi Arabia", Vidler & Co said.
The pair said they have changed locations in the city more than ten times as they fear abduction by Riyadh authorities. They alleged that Saudi officials tried to take them to meet male relatives and Saudi officials.
"We feel like fish trapped in a little oasis that is rapidly drying out," they said.
Many Saudi women who flee overseas have told media and human rights groups of the coercive tactics used by Saudi officials and family members to pursue those who escape.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun drew global attention with her dramatic escape from an allegedly abusive family in the kingdom early this year. The 18-year-old Saudi later gained refugee status in Canada after being threatened with deportation from Thailand.
Under the Saudi guardianship system, male relatives have near-total control over women's lives.
An American woman is currently stranded in the country after divorcing her Saudi husband due to the repressive system, it was reported on Tuesday."All what we asking for is to be safe, All what we asking for is to live at least one single day without fear, to sleep without nightmares, to have a home where we can live without being threat! We don't want to be killed," the sisters tweeted last week.