Immigration

'Now I own my life': Saudi sisters stuck in Hong Kong granted asylum

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Two Saudi sisters who had been hiding in Hong Kong after an aborted attempt to seek asylum in Australia have left for a third country on humanitarian visas.

Two Saudi Arabian sisters are hoping for a "bright, beautiful future" after being granted asylum, fleeing what they describe as an abusive family and a repressive society.

The sisters fled from their family last September while on holiday in Sri Lanka and have been stranded in Hong Kong since an aborted attempt to get to Australia, where they hoped to secure asylum.

Saudi sisters Rawan and Reem, 20 (both using adopted aliases), are now heading to a third country.Saudi sisters Rawan and Reem, 20 (both using adopted aliases), are now heading to a third country.
Saudi sisters Rawan and Reem, 20 (both using adopted aliases), are now heading to a third country.
Getty Images

For reasons of safety, the sisters, aged 18 and 20, who say they were beaten by their father and brothers, asked that their names and faces not be revealed, nor the country to which they have now gone.

"Oh my God, I was so happy," the curly haired younger sister said, describing how she felt when told asylum had been secured.

"I screamed 'It's real, it's happening' ... It was just relief and unforgettable."

The sisters spoke to Reuters in a Hong Kong hotel shortly before they left the city. Also present was HK-based rights lawyer Michael Vidler, who has been helping them.

The pair say they feared for their lives in the kingdom.
The pair say they feared for their lives in the kingdom.
SBS News

They said they had lived in fear for six months, shuttling between 15 safe houses, staying with a nun, families and at a shelter for abused women.

They feared being intercepted by Saudi officials or relatives and forced to return home, where they believe they could be punished for renouncing Islam, which is punishable by death under the Saudi system of Islamic law..

In a statement late on Monday, Vidler confirmed the sisters had successfully travelled to a third country on "humanitarian visas".

"To ensure their future security we will not be disclosing the third country where the sisters are now living, nor will we be providing any further details," he wrote on the Facebook page of his law firm. "The sisters will not be giving any further media interviews."

The sisters said they were treated harshly, at times beaten, by their brothers and father.

They were also critical of Saudi Arabia's male guardianship system that requires women to have a male relative's permission to work, travel, marry, and even get some medical treatment.

"Women are just like slaves," said the older sister, adding that her dream was to become a writer one day.

"I want to settle down and to feel safe, and (to know) that I have rights and I matter in that country. Just to live normal, and discover myself ... because now I own my life."

Michael Vidler, the lawyer for two young Saudi sisters.
Michael Vidler, the lawyer for two young Saudi sisters.
Getty Images

This is not the first case in Asia this year of young Saudi women fleeing what they said was repression.

In January, an 18-year-old Saudi woman was granted asylum in Canada after fleeing her family and barricading herself in a Bangkok hotel to resist being sent home.

Her case drew global attention to Saudi Arabia's strict social rules, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

The sisters watched the news of Khashoggi's death unfold while in hiding in Hong Kong.

Murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
AAP

"I said to my sister, 'I'm glad we left. This is the country we left', there is no regret at all," said the older sister..

The pair hatched their escape plan over several years, secretly hoarding about $US5000, partly by scrimping on items they were given money to buy, and had timed it to coincide with the younger sister's 18th birthday.

The younger sister said she had no regrets too.

"There's a bright, beautiful future awaiting me."

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