HONG KONG • Two Saudi sisters fleeing what they described as beatings in their home country may be deported from Hong Kong within hours, unless the authorities extend their stay.
The pair, aged 18 and 20, whose identities have not been revealed in order to secure their safety, say they could face death if they are sent back home.
Their lawyer, Mr Michael Vidler, said the immigration department had acknowledged the girls' request to extend their stay beyond yesterday's deadline and that the two were hopeful it would be granted.
"We are in fear every day we are in Hong Kong. We want to leave to a third-country place of safety as soon as possible. We desperately hope that this will happen very soon," the sisters said in a statement issued by their lawyer.
The sisters arrived in Hong Kong last September, after running away from their family during a holiday in Sri Lanka. They have applied for asylum in an unidentified third country.
While fleeing through Hong Kong, they were prevented from boarding a flight to Australia and were intercepted by Saudi Arabian diplomats, the sisters said.
They managed to escape and enter the city as visitors, with permission to stay until yesterday. Reuters could not independently verify their story.
The Hong Kong immigration department did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. The Saudi consulate in Hong Kong has also not responded to repeated requests for comment.
Amnesty International yesterday urged the Hong Kong authorities not to return the sisters to Saudi Arabia.
LIVING IN FEAR
We are in fear every day we are in Hong Kong. We want to leave to a third-country place of safety as soon as possible. We desperately hope that this will happen very soon.
THE SISTERS, in a statement issued by their lawyer.
"This would place them in grave danger," said Ms Kate Schuetze, Amnesty's refugee researcher.
"They fled the kingdom after repeated abuse by male relatives and they are at real risk of serious human rights violations if they are forcibly returned."
The case is the second high-profile example in Asia this year of Saudi women seeking to escape their country. Saudi Arabia's strict social rules require females to seek permission from a male "guardian" to travel.
In January, a Saudi teen made global headlines by barricading herself in a Bangkok airport hotel to avoid being sent home to her family. The 18-year-old was later granted asylum in Canada.