Saudi sisters seek asylum after a lifetime of abuse
Detained in Dubai has released a statement from Dua Khalid Al-Shweiki, one of the two sisters who have escaped alleged abuse in Saudi Arabia, fleeing from their family while in Turkey; for the first time providing details of their traumatic life under religiously strict parents and a harsh patriarchal system.
CEO Radha Stirling commented, “I have been in continuous communication with Dua and Dalal since first learning of their plight. It is heartbreaking to hear what they have endured since childhood; constant bullying, intolerance, physical, verbal and psychological abuse from family members, peers, and the authorities. Their resilience is inspiring, and the courage in their bid for freedom is tremendous. We are doing all we can to ensure that these young women will find asylum in a welcoming country as soon as possible. It is urgent, and their lives are in danger every moment they remain in limbo.”
Dua Al-Shweiki, 22, wrote the statement with her sister Dalal, 21, explaining that the two suffered a lifetime of mistreatment and abuse.
“My parents were rigid hard-liners,” she wrote, “They forced us to wear hijab and full-face cover (niqab), when I was just 11 years old. I remember one day when I was a child I felt so hot, so I took off the hijab…and I was subjected to a harsh beating until they took me to the hospital since my mother beat me on the head with a wooden stick.”
Dua said that she was expelled from school as a teenager, and the administration told her family that she was gay, “My mother beat me, threw all my clothes and broke everything in my room.” The issue of Dua’s sexuality became a frequent source of speculation and threats in later years, as her family tried to force her into marriages she did not want.
She also wrote of her sister’s victimization at the hands of Saudi Arabia’s notorious religious police, “One day my sister Dalal left the university, and was stopped by a man working with the “prohibition of vice” as he claimed. He pulled her to the car and tried to rape her, but my sister resisted and pushed herself out of the car as it was moving. This event was the worst that has ever happened to my sister and me throughout our whole lives.”
Finally, Dua and Dalal concluded that their only chance at freedom and a meaningful life was to escape. “We can never possibly live with our family, and I know that living with them will end up with us being killed. They have robbed us out of our dreams, our ambitions and our childhood, and now they want our youth” Doa wrote.
The sisters ran away from their family while in Turkey, and began appealing for help via Twitter, but even these appeals were hindered when their Twitter account was abruptly suspended. “Dua and Dalal immediately set up a new account, and it too was almost instantly suspended,” Stirling says, “This happened several times, but fortunately we were able to establish contact before their latest suspension. Their family possess the sisters’ passports, and it may be that they are reporting Dua and Dalal’s Twitter accounts as fake in order to close them. We hope Twitter is not suspending the accounts in deference to Saudi investors who own a considerable share in the company; but even the account we set up for them has been locked for dubious reasons, so there is a fear that there may be an attempt to silence their story.”
Stirling said that the sisters will be applying with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and that Detained in Dubai is assisting them in their pursuit of asylum in every way possible.
The complete statement of Dua and Dalal Al-Shweiki is reproduced below:
I am Dua Khalid Al-Shweiki, 22 years old, from Saudi Arabia – Jeddah. My sister Dalal Khalid Al-Shweiki is 21 years old.
I, Doa, have been bullied ever since I was young, by everyone; my parents, at school, my teachers, my female friends. I never lived my childhood, I don’t even think that I had a childhood.
My parents were rigid hardliners, they forced us to wear hijab and full-face cover (niqab), when I was just 11 years old. I remember one day when I was a child I felt so hot, so I removed off the hijab from my head. My brother told my mother and I was subjected to harsh beating until they took me to the hospital since my mother beat me on the head with a wooden stick.
There were problems between my mother and father every day, and when my mother was angry with my father, she would beat us for no reason except to vent off her anger. I tried to tell everyone close to us, but they never believed us, and they told my family which made things worse… So, we kept silent.
My sister and I were both sexually harassed by my older brother. And when I tried to tell my mother, she smiled at me and said that this was impossible. She just dismissed it so simply, and when I tried to tell her again, she was very angry and so I kept silent. This is because (in our culture) whenever a woman is harassed or raped, she would carry the whole burden of the issue, and she ends up being beaten for what the male did to her, or she ends up being killed.
When I was 16 years old, I was subjected to racism and psychological abuse at school by the teachers because of my hair and because of my appearance. I was exposed to heavy bullying by the students, and when I told my mother what happened at school, she never stood by me, and always took their side… I have no idea why.
They put so much pressure on me to give up school, because they could not expel me, so I moved to another school. When I moved to another school nothing changed and the situation got worse. The teachers in my old school communicated with the teachers of my new school, and they smeared my reputation, until they expelled me for no reason!
They told my family that I was homosexual and my mother beat me, threw all my clothes and broke everything in my room.
When I was 18 years old and my sister was 17, they tried to force us to marry but we always refused. When the men came to see me and my sister for marriage, we would tell them that we were compelled into marriage and that we totally refuse to get married.
We were then beaten every time we said this!
We succeeded in entering university after long discussions with my parents, since my father is against the very concept of university for women. He always said that if a woman studied at the university, this would be an act of big generosity from her family, since women are only suited for the house, the husband and for bearing children.
For him, work and study, are a no-no! When I tried to argue that his thinking is wrong, he would become very angry, and tell me that this kind of crooked thinking is only in the West, and not in our religion.
One day my sister Dalal left the university, and was stopped by a man working with the “prohibition of vice” as he claimed. He pulled her to the car and tried to rape her, but my sister resisted and pushed herself out of the car as it was moving. This event was the worst that has ever happened to my sister and me throughout our whole lives.
When we tried to report the man to the police, the policeman verbally abused us over the phone.
We were so sad and angry, but could not tell our parents anything and we could not do nothing but keep silent.
My sister Dalal was always severely beaten by my mother, and sometimes even when my sister was sleeping, my mother would enter her room for no reason and pull her by her hair and muffle her breath so no one would hear her as she beat her.
I tried to tell my father but he never responded.
Recently, I, Duaa, have been threatened by the university and they expelled me because of my hair and my appearance.
When I tried to communicate this to the Ministry of Education, the university director threatened me and my father that if I did not keep silent, she would file against us a "homosexuality" case. My father never stood by my side, and he deprived me of studying. He told me that I had grown up and that I should marry, and that I’ll never be able to refuse, if my father liked the man proposing to me.
He tried to force me to marry a man who is over 50 years old, already married to two women and with three children. When I refused, he tried to convince me that the man had a lot of money, and that women do not care much about men; they only wanted money and children.
He told me that my refusal to marry expels me out of the religion of Islam!
He threatened me that I would never live independently, and that if I even dared to think about it, he would kill me.
We can never possibly live with our family, and I know that living with them will end up with us being killed. They have robbed us out of our dreams, our ambitions and our childhood, and now they want our youth.
If they succeed in returning me to Saudi Arabia, I will be tried by the government and then killed by my family.