Following the new drinking gourd – women fugitives from the Middle East

According to the American folk song “Follow the Drinking Gourd“, escaped slaves from the South were able to follow the Big Dipper/North Star to freedom in the North.

Today’s path for asylum-seekers more often than not leads through social media, but it still apparently ends in Canada.

The latest fugitive is Hind Mohammed al-Bolooki, from the UAE, who was locked up in a room after her family refused her a divorce. When she was allowed to use the toilet, she escaped through a window without her shoes, traveled overland to Bahrain (she had already given her passport to a friend for safekeeping), and then flew through Turkey and Serbia, and is now detained in a place called North Macedonia. In case no one has ever heard of this country, it is the old Republic of Macedonia.  Two days ago it changed its name in an effort to get along better with Greece, which has a region also called Macedonia.

In January, Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun (red link) was granted asylum in Canada after escaping from a forced marriage while her family was on vacation in Kuwait.  She was trying to reach Australia, but was stopped in Bangkok where officials seized her passport and she locked herself in a hotel room and tweeted her predicament, until UNHCR intervened. She is now in Canada.

Two years ago, Saudi teenager Shahad al-Muhaimeed escaped from her family during a vacation in Turkey.  She took a taxi across the border to Georgia and asked for asylum. She now lives in Sweden.

Georgia is popular with Saudis since they can enter without a visa.  Australia is also popular because you can apply for a visa online, the only choice for women who are not allowed to go out.  One women used a Saudi website that notifies men by text message when women they have guardianship over try to board a plane – she used her father’s phone to give herself permission to travel, disabled his notifications and flew to Turkey, then entered Georgia, and bought a ticket to Australia via the UAE, which fortunately did not detain her in transit, and she landed safely in Sydney.

Ashwaq and Areej Hamoud are Saudi sisters who have been fighting deportation from Turkey since 2017.

Not all of the stories end well.

Sheikha Latifa, blue link for a change, Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum (II), in 2018 left her native Dubai in a car and crossed the border to Oman, then boarded a yacht. After Sheikha Latifa posted to social media and contacted British-based attorney Radha Stirling of Detained in Dubai,  the yacht was intercepted by authorities from India as well as two Emirati warships, two military planes and a helicopter.

What a small world.  Sheikha Latifa’s father is none other than the ruler of Dubai, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who you may remember once tried to give Jimbo a “knowledge award”, which after some arm-twisting, Jimbo used to start his “Jimmy Wales Foundation” with Orit Kopel, who later joined him as a founding member of WikiTribune. After her failed escape, Sheikha Latifa was seen once more, inside Dubai, appearing in a photo at her home with British diplomat and former UNHCR commissioner Mary Robinson. According to Wikipedia, the meeting was at the request of “Princess Haya, one of Sheikh Al Maktoum’s six wives [6??? isn’t it 3] , an old friend of Robinson’s, and was requested to go to Dubai by Princess Haya and that Haya paid the fare…”, the Princess Haya being none other than the daughter of Jordan’s late King Hussein and the half-sister of Jordan’s current King Abdullah II, also the heart throb of hundreds of appreciative Jordanian men, who followed her uninspiring career as an Olympic horsewoman (okay she fell off the horse, but they didn’t rebroadcast that) with all the dignified reserve due a beautiful princess.

There was the double suicide drowning of sisters Rotana and Tala Farea in New York, who left an abusive family situation in Virginia, and killed themselves when their credit card maxed out.

Dina Ali Lasloom (WP) was a Saudi woman trying to reach Australia in 2017 when she was stopped during transit in Manila and sent back to Saudi Arabia, tied up in a wheel chair with duct tape. She has not been seen since.

Another women fugitive who gained international attention was Saudi Princess Mishaal (WP) who was killed by her family in 1977 after trying to leave the country in order to elope.

Meanwhile, war-torn Yemen has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, with 12-year-olds dying in childbirth.  Daughters as young as 8 years old are being married off.  “Fayrouz’s mother needed a blood transfusion… ‘We needed the money from the dowry,’ said her father….$2,000 in dowry, with a promise to pay $400 more at a later date.”

Who are these people?  “Washington-based Saudi women’s rights scholar Hala Aldosari” (red link) . Moudi Aljohani, a Saudi women’s rights activist who has applied for asylum in the U.S.

fly my angelSo back to Hind Al-Bolooki.  She now reportedly now has a visa for Canada, no surprise there, but no word on whether she will be released.  North Macedonia is a small country, not particularly wealthy, and may well be vulnerable to the kind of pressure that can be applied by the UAE.

UPDATE: Turkish sources now report that Hind Al-Balooki left North Macedonia on Feb. 15, boarded a plane with her French lawyer, and landed in Berlin, after the European Court of Human Rights asked the authorities of Northern Macedonia to “make the final decision free of charge” for her release and asylum. Twitter thread.

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