Saudi sisters who stole their dad's phone to flee despite travel restrictions on women say they have been granted asylum

Twitter/GeorgiaSisters2Saudi sisters Wafa al-Subaie (L,) 25, and Maha al-Subaie (R,) 28, said they’d got their asylum approved on Tuesday.
  • Two Saudi Arabian sisters who escaped the country have been given asylum, they said on Tuesday.
  • Maha al-Subaie, 28, and Wafa al-Subaie, 25, fled to Georgia on April 17 and spent weeks petitioning the UN and Georgia’s government for asylum status on Twitter.
  • The al-Subaie sisters say they took their father’s phone to give themselves permission to leave via Saudi’s government Absher app.
  • As INSIDER has reported at length, Saudi’s guardianship system requires permissions – often granted via Absher – for women to leave the country, making it hard to escape.
  • “We are thrilled to announce that we are leaving Georgia. We are on our way to start a new life in a new country,” they said. They declined to say which country, citing safety concerns.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Two Saudi Arabian sisters who say they escaped an abusive family in their home country announced on Tuesday that they have been granted asylum and will start a “new life.”

Maha al-Subaie, 28, and Wafa al-Subaie, 25, fled Saudi Arabia last month, citing oppression and abuse at the hands of their male relatives.

After arriving in the nation of Georgia – a popular destination for Saudi runaways – they set up a Twitter account to post videos and messages to document their application for protection.

In an interview during the process, the al-Subaie sisters said that in order to escape they had to steal their father’s phone to grant themselves permission to leave the country.

Under Saudi Arabia’s restrictive legal system of male guardianship, men need to give women permission to cross borders, which is often granted and rescinded via a smartphone app called Absher.

INSIDER has reported extensively on the app, which controversially has the support of US tech giants Apple and Google.

14 US members of Congress wrote a letter to Apple and Google demanding they remove the app. Rights groups also slammed the tech pairing, with one calling them “accomplices in oppression.”

Wafa al-Subaie told the Guardian the app “gives men control over women.”

They told Danish broadcaster Nyheder: “We stole my father’s phone and we made passport for us, and gave us permission to travel, and one day before we ran away we take out passports from the post and we run.”

On Tuesday the sisters tweeted: “We are thrilled to announce that we are leaving Georgia. We are on our way to start a new life in a new country.”

The pair fled Saudi Arabia on April 17 because their family “threatened and abused us every day,” they said in a petition pleading for help which amassed 40,000 signatures.

They said they used Absher on their father’s phone to give themselves permission to fly to Turkey. From there, they crossed to Georgia.

Wafa and Maha al-SubaeiTwitter/GeorgiaSisters2Wafa (L) and Maha (R) al-Subaie are in Georgia seeking asylum.

Once in Tbilisi they began tweeting the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and asking a network of Saudi refugees to share their call for help.

Twitter is a vital tool for escapees seeking asylum.

Earlier this year, 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed successfully gained asylum after she documented her attempts to resist deportation to Saudi Arabia from Thailand in a viral Twitter campaign. Mohammed has credited the publicity from her social media activity for ultimately securing her asylum in Canada.


Read more:
Saudi Arabia runs a huge, sinister online database of women that men use to track them and stop them from running away

The sisters say that they will not reveal the name of the country which granted them asylum.

They tweeted:

“We are still in disbelief this is happening and we cannot express how happy we are to have found a new home. We couldn’t have done it without your support. All of you. Your sweet and thoughtful messages helped us through some very hard times. We cannot thank you all enough.”

Shahad al-MohaimeedNOSShahad al-Mohaimeed spoke to Dutch broadcaster NOS about her escape from her abusive Saudi father.

Saudi Arabia has express concern about women who run away in such a public manner, and recently described people like the al-Subaie sisters as a similarly dire threat to national security as terrorists.

Georgia is popular destination for Saudi women who run away because they can visit without arranging a visa in advance. Saudi Arabia announced on April 24 that it would open an embassy in the capital of Tbilisi, prompting critics to speculate that it would be used as a hub for disrupting asylum claims.

Earlier this year INSIDER spoke with refugee Shahad al-Mohaimed, who also fled to Georgia before ultimately winning asylum in Sweden.


Read more:
Saudi Arabia’s repressive guardianship laws are trapping these women in desperate situations they have little chance of escaping

A friend and spokeswoman for the al-Subaie sisters told INSIDER the sisters would be taking time off social media while they settle into their new home.

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