Saudi TV show grapples with rising number of women fleeing the kingdom

Tuesday 26 February 201906:39 am
Last week, Saudi Arabia's state-owned SBC channel broadcast a watershed program by Saudi journalist Dawood Al-Shorian, which dealt with the recent trend of Saudi girls fleeing their families and heading abroad. The program addressed family and social issues that the girls had to deal with, without mentioning the systematic oppression of female activists by the Saudi authorities, which has been the subject of several reports by international human rights organizations. In the past, Saudi state television did not permit discussion of this type of subject on Saudi screens for political, social and religious reasons. The first episode of the program, which is named after its presenter, featured a young woman who used a pseudonym, Riri, only revealing her eyes in order to protect her identity, as well as a  young man named Abdullah who also hid his entire face. The two are currently in hiding in London. The show featured a third guest who was in the studio in person named Bandar Saidi. At the beginning of the episode, Riri told her story of escape from Saudi Arabia and her request for asylum in London, explaining that her brother had raped her when she was 8 years old and said she decided to leave the kingdom for fear of arrest after she became more outspoken about women’s rights on social media. The second guest, Abdullah, was a transsexual man who said that he decided to flee Saudi Arabia after being advised by doctors to undergo a sex change operation. He thought it would be better to undergo the operation abroad as it would be extremely difficult to change his ID to match his gender. The third guest, Bandar Seidar, spoke of the motives for his wife's flight to Australia and request for asylum, despite receiving approval for scholarships at Australian universities, saying that the wife's decision not to appear in the program was due to her being incited by “people she met in Australia”. There has been a spotlight recently shed on the trend of the escape of Saudi girls abroad after the story of the Saudi young woman Rahaf Al-Qunun went viral and received international attention after her escape to Thailand and then asylum in Canada, despite attempts by her family to bring her back to Saudi Arabia.

The reasons for the escape of girls in Al Shorian’s opinion

Shorian attributed the reason for the escape of girls from Saudi Arabia to the weakness of the country’s protection schemes and the abuse of the guardianship system by some parents, which requires a male relative’s permission for many basic transactions. He said that the existing protection system places the victim in shelters with a bad reputation in conditions similar to imprisonment, while the aggressor, who is usually a relative like the father or brother, is free and can return the escapee solely by signing a pledge not to attack her again. Al-Shorian said that the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, which is responsible for the protection file, has major issues to contend with concerning the labor market and unemployment, and has placed the issue of protecting victims of domestic abuse rather low on their agenda. He said that Saudi Arabia needs a different protection system that provides real shelter for the victims and encourages them to seek help instead of fleeing outside the kingdom. Al-Shorian added that the state has repatriated  young people involved in terrorist organizations and given them an opportunity to return home safely and that he hoped Saudi women would be afforded the same treatment. The presenter did not refer to international reports about the recent increase in the numbers of Saudis seeking asylum  due to the oppressive policies of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. UNHCR statistics show that there has been a marked increase in the number of Saudi refugees and asylum seekers since 2015, the year in which the crown prince, known as MbS, appeared on the political landscape of the kingdom at the age of 29. Observers have claimed that the program aimed to absolve MbS of his responsibility for the rise in the number of people fleeing the kingdom and rather lay the blame on social issues. Two weeks earlier, CNN reported that the number of Saudi asylum seekers doubled after the Saudi Crown Prince's campaign to stamp out opposition in the country. According to the latest statistics of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of Saudi refugees and asylum seekers in 2017 numbered 2392 people.
Show the comments
Website by WhiteBeard