“What I actually need is simply to reside usually with out concern and never should fake to be any person else, that is all I ever need,” Arwa instructed CNN on the eve of her appointment.
“What actually scares me is that I would not get this asylum, and I might be returned and I might die younger, and that I might lose every little thing that I attempted to construct, that I might simply fail.”
Arwa initially got here to the US as a pupil earlier than returning to Saudi Arabia to work for a number of years. There she says her dad and mom started to activate her as she started questioning the restrictions positioned on ladies in Saudi society.
Her frustrations grew to the purpose that one night time she sneaked out of her household residence and organized to journey throughout the border to Bahrain, the place she boarded a flight to start her journey to the US.
Leaving her residence and Saudi Arabia had been towards the needs of her father, who can also be her authorized guardian, and doing both might have landed her in jail.
Each girl in Saudi Arabia, no matter age, has a authorized male guardian, typically a father or brother or son. Guardians have the ability to make a variety of important selections on a lady’s behalf. Ladies have to get their permission to journey overseas, marry and generally to work or entry well being care.
The guardianship system is “probably the most important obstacle to realizing ladies’s rights within the nation,” Human Rights Watch said in a report released in July.
The report helped encourage a social media marketing campaign amongst Saudi ladies calling for an finish to the system.
All through the summer season Saudi ladies started tweeting, detailing the injustices of the guardianship system — risking the wrath of their guardians and the federal government in doing so.
They acquired seen. In September, the nation’s most senior non secular authority, the Grand Mufti, described the social media marketing campaign as a “crime focusing on the Saudi and Muslim society.” However they have not stopped.
Leaving Saudi Arabia
CNN previously spoke to five Saudi women involved in the campaign. A kind of ladies, Moudi, has since left Saudi Arabia and, like Arwa, has determined to hunt asylum within the US. Moudi lately started her asylum utility.
It isn’t frequent for Saudis to hunt asylum within the US. Between 2011 and 2005, greater than 250,000 asylum functions had been made to the USA, 111 had been from Saudi nationals, 29 of which had been authorized, in line with figures from the Department of Justice.
In the identical time interval, the US granted asylum to 30 British nationals. Britain is one other US ally.
Arwa, and different Saudi asylum seekers CNN spoke to, don’t match the final stereotype one thinks of once they think about a refugee.
They’re extremely educated, well-dressed, are sometimes in a position to pay for efficient immigration attorneys and might afford to remain in motels, or with sympathetic pals.
Campaigners say the variety of ladies desirous to get out of Saudi Arabia and fearing for his or her lives aren’t mirrored within the comparatively low variety of US asylum utility numbers.
“Many ladies merely cannot get out,” one campaigner instructed CNN. “They don’t have the means and so they want the permission of their guardian to go away their home or to go away the nation.”
Muhammad Syed, the top of Ex-Muslims of North America, a gaggle that helps former Muslims, instructed CNN that some Saudi ladies, who’ve renounced Islam, determine to relocate to neighboring international locations that “grant apostates extra freedoms.”
Each Arwa and Moudi left behind households of relative wealth.
“What good are supplies and wealth once we cannot be free?” certainly one of them requested.
Their exits had been facilitated by having beforehand studied within the US, the place they each have a small help community of pals, and the funds essential to secretly put apart sufficient to make the transfer.
Wahhabism, the conservative official interpretation of Islam in Saudi Arabia, ensures Sharia Legislation within the nation and helps defend the male guardian system.
Arwa and Moudi have each left Islam.
Among the many supporting paperwork submitted as a part of Arwa’s asylum utility was a replica of a e-newsletter through which she and two others had been declared apostates.
The brief e-newsletter submit, which she mentioned was distributed in her native space, detailed how she and two others from her city renounced Islam on social media.
“The punishment for it may be dying,” the article reminds its readers.
Going again just isn’t an choice
Arwa argued that as she had publicly renounced Islam, had questioned and challenged the nation’s guardianship system, and had left her residence and the nation with out the suitable permissions from her guardian, it will not be protected to return.
She instructed CNN she feared being punished at residence for bringing disgrace to her household and for not obeying her father, and was fearful the state would prosecute her if she didn’t return to Islam.
Echoing Arwa’s fears, Kristine Beckerle, who screens the guardianship system as a part of her work with Human Rights Watch, instructed CNN: “Saudi Arabia has and continues to arrest, prosecute and imprison dissidents, together with ladies’s rights activists, who then, if they’re imprisoned, want a male guardian to conform to their launch.”
CNN requested the Saudi authorities if ladies comparable to Arwa and Moudi who had renounced Islam and had publicly criticized the Saudi authorities needs to be afraid of returning to Saudi Arabia. There was no response.
Arwa went by way of the applying course of with out a lawyer. As an alternative, she relied on pals who had already been granted asylum, studying recommendation on-line, and the ethical help of her American boyfriend.
On the Houston immigration workplace, she waited patiently, having arrived a couple of minutes earlier than her 7 a.m. appointment.
Her identify was known as by a clerk at a sales space.
“Your utility for asylum in the USA of America has been profitable,” the official instructed her.
Relieved, she set free a deep breath and commenced to cry.
A few minutes later, after some types had been signed and a few paperwork exchanged, she was instructed she was free to go.
A journey that started with a late-night escape from Saudi Arabia and two years of hysteria appeared to finish so merely and so immediately.
On her approach out, an Iraqi household congratulated Arwa on her asylum, frantically asking her questions on her utility as they seemed to her as an indication of hope.
As soon as outdoors, she known as her boyfriend, instructed him that she wasn’t going wherever.
Then she acquired in her automobile, sat behind the wheel and drove away.