Home / World / Saudi Arabia: MBS & # 39; Clampdown & # 39; increases the number of Saudi Arabian refugees

Saudi Arabia: MBS & # 39; Clampdown & # 39; increases the number of Saudi Arabian refugees

While Qunun barricaded herself in an airport hotel room to prevent her deportation, Nourah – who did not want to reveal her full name for security reasons – walked up and down a public park in Sydney and phoned Western news agencies. She had never met Qunun before, but Nourah recently fled Saudi Arabia. She did not need to know who Qunun was to understand the urgency of her situation. Within days, Qunun was granted asylum in Canada.

"I picked up my cell phone and talked to people about Rahaf (al-Qunun) because I'm in a free country, a country that would not jail me for anything I said on the phone, Nourah told CNN.

"The case was not about Rahaf. It was about all Saudi women. If a Saudi woman had asked for my help, I would have done the same. with the same determination, "she said.

For 72 hours, Nourah and two other Saudi women posted on social media and gave media interviews without identifying themselves, tweeted about Saudi Arabia's restrictive male guardianship laws and wrote that the law inflicted significant impunity on men and widespread alleged domestic maltreatment, which according to Qunun they are fleeing.
Asylum is "an idea very popular in Saudi Arabia" according to Nourah, activists and analysts say that the lure of asylum seekers is due to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's campaign has been stepped up to end rejection in the kingdom, and over the last few years has ordered several high-profile clerics, analysts, businessmen and princes and women's rights defenders allegedly tortured and "suspicious contact" with foreign organ accuse them.

The Saudi government has denied the allegations of torture and stated that they "do not approve, promote or permit the use of torture".

The Prince was under strict international control after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed last October at the Kingdom Consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia described it as a failed attempt to bring the critic back to Saudi Arabia and said the killers would be brought to justice.

For some Saudis abroad, Saudi activist Yahya Assiri said, however, he emphasized what they already suspected: the kingdom and its overseas offices were banned for critics.

"It is absolutely impossible that I would ever go to the Saudi embassy," said London-based dissident CNN shortly after the news of Khashoggi's disappearance broke. "I refused to go before and the situation in Khashoggi made my decision even clearer."

In 2013, Assiri, a former member of the Saudi Air Force, went to Britain to study human rights. A year later, he applied for asylum and is now a Saudi refugee. His status would allow him to free himself from Saudi officials, he said, eliminating the risk Khashoggi had entered on October 2 when he entered his country's consulate to obtain papers that would marry him and never again appeared.

Saudi refugees rise

The number of Saudi Arabian refugees has increased in recent years. In 1993, the first year in which cases of Saudi Arabian asylum seekers were recorded, there were seven Saudi refugees, according to the United Nations Office for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). They settled in Jordan, Greece and Sweden.

According to recent UNHCR public documents, Saudi Arabian refugees and asylum seekers had a total of 2,392 in 2017. Five countries hosted the majority of these Saudis: the United States (1,143), Canada (453), Australia (191), Great Britain (184) and Germany (147).

The number dwindled and flowed from 1993. In 2006, the peak was reached and rejuvenated in the following years. The number of Saudi Arabian refugees rose again after the Arab Spring in 2011, which triggered unrest in the eastern province of the kingdom.

  18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun addresses the press at a press conference in Toronto.

However, the strongest increase in Saudi Arabian refugees and asylum seekers occurred after 2015, the year in which Prince Mohammed bin Salman was then 29, emerged on the political scene of the kingdom.

"You have people fleeing political repression, and that's very easily tied to MBS and what it did, and I think the number (of refugees and asylum seekers) you see here One indication is, "Human Rights The Middle Eastern observer, Adam Coogle, told CNN.

The Saudi authorities did not respond immediately to CNN's request.

Compared to war-torn countries in the region like Syria, the total numbers are unremarkable. However, analysts and activists point to a relatively strong increase, apparently caused by the rapidly changing political environment of the kingdom.

"Certainly the political space and the open space were already very close, and in the last two years it has become much narrower, the environment would certainly provoke more Saudis for a stay abroad," said Ali Shihabi, a follower of Mohammed bin Salman and the founder of The Arabia Foundation, a Washington-based think tank. "But it's statistically insignificant."

Shihabi called the Crown Prince's tightening of political freedom a confrontation with an "increasingly polarized society" in Saudi Arabia to introduce "a very dramatic change."

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With the rise of his father to the throne in January 2015, Mohammed bin Salman's rise to power began. King Salman appointed the Prince (known by his initials MBS) in January 2015 and later that year Minister of Defense of the Deputy Crown Prince. MBS's rapid consolidation of power in the Saudi royal court and government culminated in its appointment as Crown Prince in June 2017. He is widely considered the daily ruler of the kingdom.

During this time, the Prince introduced an ambitious economic and economic policy to social reform program known as Vision 2030, with the aim of freeing the economy from its dependence on oil production. In addition to a series of robust privatization measures, Vision 2030 loosened the kingdom's ultra-conservative social code. The ban on driving women was lifted, the guardianship rules for men were relaxed, and the kingdom hosted its first concerts and opened its first movie theaters. The series of reforms won the praise of many international experts and Western politicians, and produced global headlines.

The prince's followers welcomed the shaking of the kingdom of a system in which clerics exerted considerable influence and in which the economy was burdened with bureaucratic bottlenecks. But even as MBS found world leaders in its ambitious plans for weeks-long city tours of Western cities, its critics pointed to a grim side of history.

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A few months after the appointment of MBS as Crown Prince, he wrote Insider critic Khashoggi made his first Washington Post report from his self-imposed exile in Washington.

"(MBS) spoke of making our country more open and tolerant, promising that it would deal with things that hamper our progress, such as banning women who drive women," Khashoggi wrote a column from September 2017. "But I only see the recent wave of arrests."

Then he ominously added, "I do not have to talk to other Saudi friends in Istanbul and London who also live in exile. There are at least seven of us – will we be the core of a Saudi Arabian diaspora?

  Jamal Khashoggi following up during a press conference in Bahrain in 2014.

Between 2015 and In 2016, the number of Saudi refugees and asylum seekers increased by 52% to 1,936, compared to an increase of 13% over the previous year in the last decade, rising by 23.55% to 2,392 in 2017.

The trend That Saudis seek refuge has grown despite the risk of interception by the Saudi authorities.

Analysts, even exiled critics and women who have fled Saudi Arabia, say many people leaving the kingdom fear that the Governments of other countries may force their return.

In Kuwait, the authorities said they are deporting, at the request of the kingdom, a Qatar-Saudi dual national, Nawaf al-Rasheed He was reportedly living in Qatar and visiting Kuwait.

At Doha's Qatar airport, Saudi asylum-seeker and legal activist Mohammad al-Otaibi was forcibly returned to the kingdom when he attempted to fly his plane to Norway's wife in May, according to Amnesty International. Otaibi was presented with a list of charges, including "sharing public opinion," said Amnesty International, and eventually sentenced to 14 years in prison.

(Saudi Arabia) does not like the looks of its citizens because it really breaks into the PR campaign to portray Saudi Arabia as a modernization and improvement, "Coogle told HRW." There is an acute and clear danger He said Saudi Arabian asylum seekers face this.

Coogle says he received requests from Saudis for asylum support letters – statements that support the credibility of asylum seekers – almost bimonthly since 2016. He says requests for

Escape from the kingdom to seek asylum is more complicated for Saudi women who require the permission of a male guardian, and some have slipped from their fathers and guardians during their family vacation abroad, even then they are risking the forced repatriation of governments acting at the behest of Saudi Arabia.

In addition to travel restrictions n Women in the Kingdom do not marry, divorce, get a job, or undergo surgery without a male guardian, usually the wife's father or husband, and sometimes her son's permission – Wife Dina Ali Lasloom to flee her family from Kuwait. She was on her way to Australia on her way to Manila airport when she was arrested by Filipino immigration officers. Lasloom had asked the authorities not to deport her back to her family because she feared they would kill her.

Later, the Saudi Embassy in Manila said it had "returned home with relatives," and called the case to a "family affair."

Amani al-Ahmadi, Saudi Arabia's human rights adviser to the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, fled the country in 2014. She said her escape was "hectic, but worth it"

. We were fortunate to be advised by the US embassy, ​​"said Ahmadi, whose mother is a US citizen, to CNN." Even if it was just a stopover, they knew the odds were one

Saudi Arabia has not responded to CNN's request for comment on women's cases.

Saudi Arabian men were also part of the growing number of refugees and asylum seekers in the kingdom.

Lawyer Taha al-Hajji came to Germany from tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in 2016. He had represented activists in Saudi Arabia's eastern province of Qatif, where mainly Shiite demonstrators have demonstrated in recent years against discrimination against their religious sect in the Sunni-ruled country.

  Taha al-Hajji, a Saudi refugee in Saudi Arabia Germany
Hajji said his friends were targeted for arrest in January 2016 following the execution of prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others in a single day. One day, Hajji said, the police said he was called to a police station in his birthplace, Al-Hasa, in eastern Saudi Arabia, two hours' drive from his residence in Damam.

"This was my first clue that I would be arrested, I'm used to visiting police stations because I'm a lawyer, but they usually happen in the city of my work, Damam, not my birthplace." Hajji told CNN ,

He deleted his e-mail, packed his things, and went to Istanbul the next day. "I went to the airport and left my fate to God, there were three possibilities: I could be arrested, I could be prevented from traveling, or I could safely leave the country."

He arrived in Istanbul and traveled to Berlin 10 days later, he said. He then began his life as a Saudi Arabian refugee.

"Turning from lawyer to refugee was a major change, and she had little real justification, there was no war, it was just a matter of asking for fundamental rights," Hajji said. "I do not want to say that I'm a refugee."

A week ago Hajji's father died and he was unable to attend his funeral. Saudi officials contacted him twice, once by the Berlin embassy and once more from the kingdom, and asked him to return to the kingdom and promise safe passages. Both times Hajji politely declined, he says.

"Returning to Saudi Arabia would be unlikely to be arrested, but the situation is not the problem, and when you come back, you will be under political pressure and systematically blackmailed," Hajji said. "Our confidence in the state does not exist."

Saudi Arabia has not responded to a request for comment on Hajji's case.

Exodus of Women

The Shihabi of the Arabia Foundation said he was skeptical that women could leave Saudi Arabia because of current political conditions. The social reforms introduced by MBS would have "dramatically" improved the condition of women in the kingdom.

He said that the frequency of reported female flight in recent months may be due to the greater willingness of western countries to accept asylum seekers in the aftermath of the Khashoggi Fallout. "There is an appetite in the world for demonization in Saudi Arabia that creates more opportunities (for asylum)," Shihabi said.

  Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives on October 24, 2018 at the Future Investment Initiative FII conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Many activists and Saudi feminist groups however, argue that the Crown Prince's reforms have come to a standstill and triggered the urgency of the escape.

"The number of Saudi women who have left the country has increased enormously, especially in the light of the MBS and the detention of Saudi Arabian activists," said Saudi human rights official Ahmadi, who now lives in Seattle and is contacted regularly Advice from women who seek refuge.

"I think a lot of women feel insecure and they feel there is every chance or hope that things have got better now, it's fight or flight, fight is no longer there, so is It's literally just escape. "

For Nourah, who says she has been planning to escape for much of her life, it was her parents who had chosen her future husband to make her decision faster.

"The idea of ​​escape has always been with me, and I have set aside money with the thought that one day I would go," said Nourah.

"The Saudi government keeps trying to convince me that I've turned myself into a homeless person," she said. "But in truth, my escape from Saudi Arabia was the best decision I've ever made in my life."

Muhammad Darwish of CNN contributed to this report.

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