#SaveRahaf – why we must take action for women fleeing violence

This time yesterday there was an 18 year old woman in a hotel room in Bangkok.  She flew there from Kuwait, with a visa and flight onto Australia, and she hadn’t planned to check in or be in Thailand more than the transit time.

Unfortunately, being a woman from Saudi Arabia, fleeing her family with fear for her life, she had to have permission from her father to fly.  She’s an adult, but that doesn’t count – because she’s a woman.

And her father, who holds high political office, arranged for her to be met off the plane at Bangkok by someone who offered to organise her a Thai visa (which she didn’t need), and took her passport away from her.  Thailand then insisted that she return from whence she came, to meet her family in Kuwait, who she firmly believed will kill her and who she says have a history of abusing her.

Rahaf now is in the care of the UN, who are assessing her refugee status.  But this is only because of Rahaf’s own determination and the power of social media.  She is still not safe – her father has arrived in Thailand set on taking her back to Saudi Arabia.  Her simple plan had been to fly to Australia and then claim asylum, but this was prevented.  Having renounced Islam, illegal in Saudi Arabia, she cannot safely return.

Rahaf al-Qunun was able to get her story out solely due to the power of Twitter.  From here, major news outlets picked up on this terrifying story of how Saudi Arabia’s influence seems to stretch across the world, meaning a young lady arriving into a completely unconnected country to fly onto Australia has had to barricade herself into a hotel room to prevent herself being deported to an uncertain fate, because of Saudi Arabia’s laws on adult women needing permission to travel, which still affected her having left the country.  There can be no possible reason to take someone’s passport and prevent them flying to another country solely because they are a woman.

This sits against the backdrop of the case of Dina Ali, also from Saudi Arabia, who fled her family to Australia via the Philippines in 2017.  She was held at Manilla for 13 hours, before being reportedly “duct-taped” and returned to Riyadh.  She has not been heard from since, according to the Daily Mail.

Rahaf al-Qunun is at this very moment, as I type this, in a ‘safe house’ waiting to find out what her fate will be.  She has once again drawn attention to the huge barriers which exist to women in Saudi Arabia who want to control their own lives, and the impossibility of leaving the country to start a new life.  In a country where you have to have a man’s permission to travel, you are trapped – especially if those male relatives are violent or forcing an arranged marriage.

Rahaf’s fate still hangs in the balance, but it is time for the world to shine a spotlight on the outdated patriarchal laws which prevent women from controlling their own destiny.

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