Fugitive Saudi sisters agree to apply for asylum in Georgia

TBILISI: Georgian immigration officers have visited two Saudi sisters who pleaded for international help after fleeing the Kingdom and will help them apply for asylum, an official told AFP on Thursday.

The two women had issued pleas for international protection on a Twitter account called @GeorgiaSisters, saying they were "trapped in Georgia" after Saudi authorities cancelled their passports.

They posted photographs of their passports identifying themselves as 28-year-old Maha Alsubaie and 25-year-old Wafa Alsubaie.

"We are in danger," Maha Alsubaie said in one video posted on Twitter. "Please help us." "We want to apply for asylum in any safe country," one of the women said in another video that does not show her face. "If we go back to Saudi we will be killed." Georgia's interior ministry spokesperson, Sopho Mdinaradze, told AFP that representatives of the ministry's migration department "visited the women on Thursday and invited them to start asylum procedures. "They can feel safe, the protection of their rights is guaranteed in Georgia," Mdinaradze said.

The ministry said later in a statement that the women "agreed to move to a facility for asylum seekers to undergo the procedures envisaged by Georgian law."

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said in an earlier statement that it was "closely monitoring" the women's situation, while Human Rights Watch called on the Georgian authorities to protect them "from anyone who would harm them or force to return to Saudi Arabia against their will". The Saudi women began posting tweets about their situation on Tuesday, initially not revealing their identities. Wafa Alsubaie said in a video that their father and brothers were already in Georgia and searching for them. "We fled oppression from our family because the laws in Saudi Arabia (are) too weak to protect us," she said. The UNHCR's Georgia office said on Facebook that anyone "requesting international protection in Georgia has access to a fair and effective asylum procedure". Saudi Arabia is one of the world's most restrictive countries for women. In a similar case in March, another two Saudi sisters aged 20 and 18 who were marooned in Hong Kong arrived in a safe third country after securing humanitarian visas as they sought sanctuary from an abusive family. At the beginning of the year, 18-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun drew global attention with her dramatic escape from an allegedly abusive family, gaining refugee status in Canada. Many Saudi women who flee overseas have spoken to media and rights groups of persuasive and coercive tactics used by Saudi officials and family members to pursue those who escape.
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