May 7, 2019 / 10:46 AM / 2 months ago

Runaway Saudi sisters leave Georgia to start new life

TBILISI, May 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Two runaway Saudi sisters who won global attention for fleeing to Georgia and pleading online for protection said on Tuesday they were preparing to start new lives in a new country where their family could not find them.

Maha, 28, and Wafa al-Subaie, 25, started an online campaign to find a safe haven in April, after arriving in Georgia to escape relatives they said abused them, in the latest case to highlight Saudi Arabia’s strict social control over women.

“We are thrilled to announce that we are leaving Georgia,” the young women wrote on Tuesday from their Twitter account @GeorgiasSisters2, posting a short video of them holding Georgian passports at the airport in the capital Tbilisi.

The sisters applied for asylum in Georgia in April, but said they wanted to move elsewhere because they feared their family could come to the former Soviet republic, as visas are not required, and force them back to the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Writing on Twitter on Tuesday, they said they wanted their destination to remain secret “for a little while”, while thanking all those had who supported them.

“As we settle in our new home and life we will continue to support Saudi women. We will continue our fight against guardian abuse. Many Saudi women supported us and we will never forget it,” they wrote.

Saudi women must have permission from a male relative to work, marry and travel under the Islamic kingdom’s guardianship system, which human rights groups say can trap women and girls in abusive families.

The Georgia sisters are the third group of young Saudi women this year to attract global attention for seeking refuge outside their homeland.

A teenage girl won asylum in Canada when she holed up in a Thai airport hotel in January to escape her family. Two other Saudi sisters who hid in Hong Kong for six months were granted visas in March to travel to a third country.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has introduced reforms, such as lifting the driving ban for women, and indicated last year that he favoured ending the guardianship system. But he has stopped short of backing its annulment. (Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

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