The sisters say they escaped during a family holiday in Sri Lanka and had intended to seek asylum in Australia [File: Aleksander Solum/Reuters]
Two Saudi sisters fleeing their family in Saudi Arabia have secured emergency visas and departed from Hong Kong after spending months in hiding, according to their lawyer.
The young women, who go by the aliases Reem and Rawan, left Hong Kong on Monday for a new country of residence, which has not been named.
Lawyer Michael Vidler said in a statement that the sisters, aged 18 and 20, were granted emergency humanitarian visas after six months in Hong Kong.
Vidler said the two are now “beginning their lives as free young women”.
The sisters say they were escaping alleged abuse by their male relatives, according to Amnesty International.
Following the news of their departure from Hong Kong, Amnesty said on Twitter that the two had shown “immense courage & took huge risks” and that they “must be allowed to build their lives without living in fear that their family or the Saudi authorities will force them back”.
The young women have drawn attention to their plight by tweeting under the name #HKSaudiSisters.
They claim they escaped while on a family trip in Sri Lanka, intending to seek asylum in Australia but were intercepted at Hong Kong airport by Saudi officials and subsequently went into hiding.
Hong Kong is not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention and would-be asylum seekers often languish for years as they wait to be sent to a third country.
‘Free of violence and oppression’
The sisters said in a statement that they want their story to give hope to others facing similar situations.
“We are thrilled … that we have found our way to safety to restart our lives free of violence and oppression,” they said.
The two sisters are not the first to flee Saudi Arabia and seek assistance via social media.
Such cases appear to be on the rise, with the two sisters’ story emerging a month after 18-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf al-Qunun drew international attention with her dramatic escape from an allegedly abusive family to eventually gain refugee status in Canada.
Saudi female runaways who flee the kingdom typically say they are trying to escape domestic abuse and male guardianship laws that bar women from obtaining a passport, travelling abroad, marrying or undergoing certain medical procedures without a male relative’s consent.
Women who are caught fleeing Saudi Arabia can be pressured to return home, arrested for disobedience or can be placed in restrictive centres.
The Saudi government and its embassies around the world do not typically comment on individual runaway cases, deeming them a “family affair”.