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  • Writer's pictureDetained in Dubai

Saudi sisters’ asylum bid must not be overshadowed by escape of Princess Haya

Repression of women in the Gulf is widespread, and cases like Princess Haya are the tip of the iceberg. Saudi sisters Dua and Dalal Khalid in urgent need of asylum while media attention focuses on the escape of Haya.

As global attention has turned to the apparent asylum bid of Princess Haya bint Hussein and her escape from the UAE, reportedly with millions of dollars in tow; Saudi sisters Dua and Dalal Khalid are literally hiding out in Turkey in constant fear for their lives, trying desperately to be granted refugee status or asylum in a third country before their family members find them.

While the Princess Haya story piques the media’s interest, particularly in the aftermath of the earlier escape by Sheikha Latifa; both of whom were fleeing Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai; not all women escaping abusive families in the Gulf are royalty.

“Cases like Latifa and Haya really represent the tip of the iceberg,” Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai says, “The proper way to understand it is that domestic abuse and repression of women in the Gulf is such a widespread social problem that it is even occurring at the highest levels of society. Even the wives and daughters of the region’s rulers are not safe; so the situation for average women is even worse.

"Dua and Dalal have detailed an experience of unending abuse, subjugation, discrimination, and domestic tyranny from childhood until today. Even after their escape in Turkey, they are still being pursued, and in danger of deportation back to the same horrific conditions which have traumatised them all their lives.

“Princess Haya has yet to utter a word about her escape, yet her story has overshadowed Dua and Dalal, who have been pleading for help on social media for weeks, while living in constant danger.

“At this point, having renounced Islam, and having named and shamed their abusers on social media, the sisters’ lives are at risk if they are not granted asylum. In Saudi Arabia, they will be charged with apostasy, potentially even sedition, and subject to being publicly beheaded for these ‘crimes’. Every day that they remain in Turkey is life-threatening; it was, after all, in Turkey that Saudi authorities carried out the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

"They do not have millions of dollars in the bank; they do not have high-ranking government contacts; they are not royalty and they are not famous. How the international community responds to their plight will reveal how serious we are about women’s rights in the Arab world, because they are just two normal young women with the courage, but without the resources to flee the horrendous mistreatment experienced by thousands of others in the Gulf.”

Beginning with the dramatic escape and capture of Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum last year, there has been a stream of stories of women escaping repression in Gulf States. Rahaf Mohammed from Saudi Arabia, Hind Al Balooki from the UAE, Dua and Dalal from Saudi Arabia, and now Princess Haya, the Jordanian wife of the Ruler of Dubai.

“Male-domination is endemic in the region, and without reforms, more and more women are going to try to escape.” Stirling said, “They face male guardianship laws, extreme bias in the legal system, particularly when reporting abuse, and in matters of divorce and child custody; and at the same time, they are increasingly exposed to Western values of equality, freedom, and independence, through the media, online, and among expat communities in their own countries. This gives them hope that if they can just get out, they will be given refuge.

“It is vital for Western nations to step up in these situations, welcome these victimised women, and help them start a new life free from repression. Eventually, the societies in the Gulf will realise the urgent necessity of change and reform, but this will not happen if women like Dua and Dalal are forcibly returned to the countries they have risked everything to escape.

"A high profile case like Haya can have tremendous impact in educating the world about what women suffer in the Gulf; but it must not divert our attention from the case of Dua and Dalal who could otherwise be seized, deported, and disappeared while the media spotlight is directed at a princess.”

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