Europe

Runaway Saudi sisters: 'We were treated like slaves'

Saudi sisters Wafa and Maha al-Subaie interviewed in Georgia after fleeing their home country Image copyright Rustavi 2 TV
Image caption The pair appealed for help online using the twitter handle @GeorgiaSisters

"We have to cover our face, we have to cook...like slaves. We don't want this, we want real life, our life," says 25-year-old Wafa, the latest woman to flee Saudi Arabia with her sister.

Wafa and Maha al-Subaie, 28, are now in the republic of Georgia and are under state protection in a shelter.

They had made their case for international help on Twitter, under the account @GeorgiaSisters.

The sisters are appealing to the UN to help them get to a third, safe country.

They travelled to Georgia as Saudis do not require entry visas.

"We need your support, we want protection, we want a country that will welcome us and protect our rights," said Wafa.

Looking distressed and terrified, the Saudi sisters arrived at Georgia's migration department on Thursday evening accompanied by immigration authorities.

In an interview to local media the sisters said they did not feel safe in Georgia because it would be easy for their male relatives to find them.

"Georgia is a small country and anyone from our family can come and track us down," Wafa said.

Asked why they felt threatened in Saudi Arabia, she said it is "because we are women".

"Our family threaten us every day in our country," she said, while her sister Maha said they had proof of this.

Image caption The pair are under state protection and have been taken to a shelter

This is the latest case of Saudi women fleeing the ultra-conservative kingdom, where women are forced to obtain the permission of their male guardians if they want to work or travel.

In January 2019, the 18-year old Saudi teenager, Rahaf Mohammed al-Qanun, made international headlines after she flew to Thailand and barricaded herself in a hotel while appealing on Twitter for help to avoid deportation.

She has since been granted asylum in Canada.

And in March, two other Saudi sisters who spent six months hiding in Hong Kong were granted humanitarian visas after fleeing to escape lives of "violence and oppression".

"In Saudi Arabia men control women's lives from birth until death under the male guardianship system," said Human Rights Watch Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson.

"The Georgian authorities have said they will respect the sisters' right to claim asylum, which is the appropriate and welcome response. The real focus now should be on removing the systematic discrimination that women face in Saudi Arabia and providing meaningful and effective assistance to Saudi women subjected to abuse."

More on this story