Saudi Women, Tired of Restraints, Find Ways to Flee

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Whenever her father beat her, or bound her wrists as well as 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 could she get out?

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

yet during a family vacation in Turkey when she was 17, Shahad al-Muhaimeed saw her chance, as well as bolted. While her family slept, she took a taxi across the border to Georgia as well as declared herself a refugee, leaving Saudi Arabia behind to start a fresh life.

“I right now live the way I want to,” said Ms. Muhaimeed, 19, by phone via her fresh home in Sweden. “I live in a not bad place in which 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 This specific to Australia to seek refuge there. After an international social media campaign, the United Nations declared her a refugee on Wednesday. She left Thailand on Friday as well as was flying to Canada, where officials said she had been granted asylum.

[Read more about Ms. Alqunun’s journey here.]

The phenomenon of women trying to flee Saudi Arabia is actually not fresh, coming to the globe’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 as well as executed.

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

“All these women who 15 years ago could have never been heard via can right 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 actually never a sure thing. Since being stopped in Turkey in 2017, two sisters, Ashwaq as well as Areej Hamoud, 31 as well as 29 respectively, have been fighting a deportation order in court, saying they fear for their lives if they return to Saudi Arabia.

For some other women, like Ms. Alqunun, publicity played a key role in their successful escapes, yet even global attention does not guarantee in which a woman will not be repatriated.

In 2017, Dina Ali Lasloom, 24, begged for help in a widely viewed online video after she was stopped while transiting inside Philippines. She was held at the airport until family members arrived as well as took her back to Saudi Arabia, where This specific is actually unclear what happened to her.

The women who make This specific out must contend not only with their families’ efforts to force them home, yet also with the Saudi government’s extensive as well as 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 in which belongs to the state,” said Moudi Aljohani, who moved to the United States as a student as well as has applied for asylum. “This specific doesn’t matter if the woman has any political views or not. They are going to go after her as well as forcibly return her.”

The ways women choose to flee vary, yet interviews with 5 who succeeded showed common themes. Many had discussed their plans in private chat groups with some other women who had already fled or were also considering This specific.

A few months before Ms. Alqunun left her family during a trip to Kuwait, for instance, a friend of hers had fled as well as reached Australia as a refugee as well as was giving her advice about escaping.

Many fled via Turkey, a favorite Saudi vacation spot, to Georgia, which Saudis can enter without a visa. as well as many aimed for Australia because they could apply for visas online, the only option for women who could not get to a foreign embassy.

Saudi men use a government website to manage the women they have guardianship over, granting or denying them the right to travel, for example, as well as even setting up notifications in order in which they receive a text message when their wife or daughter boards a plane.

In order to flee, Nourah used her father’s phone to give herself permission to travel, disabled his notifications as well as flew to Turkey. via there she traveled to Georgia, then bought a ticket to Australia via the United Arab Emirates, although she feared in which the Emirati government could catch her in transit as well as return her to Saudi Arabia.

“To me in which was like a suicide mission, yet I had no some other option,” she said.

yet she made her connection as well as safely landed in Sydney, where she applied for asylum.

Once abroad, the women often face barrages of insults as well as death threats via family members as well as some other Saudis who think they have shamed the country.

While human rights groups understand why women could want to flee bad situations, they worry in which doing so could put them in grave danger.

“For the few who succeed, there are many who fail, as well as to be sent back after This specific puts the women in a actually dangerous situation,” said Mr. Coogle of Human Rights Watch.

He said This specific is actually hard to know how many women have fled the kingdom because some who leave never seek help via aid groups, as well as those who do reach out sometimes fall out of contact before This specific is actually clear if they actually made an attempt to leave or, if they did, where they ended up.

He said he had been contacted by many women inside Saudi Arabia who wanted help getting out. His organization did not help them do so, he said, although This specific could help them seek legal protection if they were outside Saudi Arabia.

Speaking via a hotel room in Bangkok where she was waiting under guard to learn if another nation could grant her asylum, Ms. Alqunun was already thinking about her fresh life. She wanted to go to college to improve her English as well as study architecture, she said.

She did not expect the transition to life in a country she had never visited to be easy, yet she had no regrets.

“There is actually no escape some other than fleeing,” she said. “There is actually no some other way.”