A Saudi Arabian woman has been granted refugee status in New Zealand because she fears persecution and even death in her home country due to the way women are treated there.
The Immigration and Protection Tribunal said the un-named woman was a follower of the Shia faith. She married a Pakistani man in a religious ceremony some years ago, but the marriage was not recognised legally in Saudi Arabia or in Pakistan.
In its just-released judgment, the tribunal said the woman’s religiously conservative extended family thought her relationship was “a serious crime against Islam and a matter of family shame”.
“The appellant claims that if she were to return to Saudi Arabia she would be at risk of being physically attacked, killed or otherwise treated cruelly by her family. The Saudi Arabian police are aware of the relationship and may also take further action. Further, she claims that the guardianship system and other discriminatory laws in Saudi Arabia prevent her from ever legally marrying her partner or travelling to meet him without restriction.”
The tribunal said family and domestic violence against women was “recognised to be a widespread and entrenched social issue in Saudi Arabia”.
“The religious context and male guardianship system creates an environment where family violence against women is easily dispensed, protection is difficult to access and punishment for the abuse is rarely enforced.”
The tribunal found the woman had a “well-founded fear of being persecuted if returned to Saudi Arabia”.
“The reason for her predicament is her membership of a particular social group which is severely marginalised on a religious, legislative and social level in Saudi Arabia. That particular social group is ‘women’.”
The tribunal found that if the woman was returned to Saudi Arabia, she would be denied the right to “physical integrity”, to freedom of movement, to marry and form a family and the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of age and sex, in violation of international human rights.
“Such treatment would amount to a violation of the appellant’s international human rights.”
The woman arrived in New Zealand in January, 2018, and was initially denied refugee status, before successfully appealing to the tribunal.
The tribunal found that the cumulative effect of the breaches of fundamental human rights likely to be experienced by the woman was “sufficiently grave to amount to a finding of persecution in the sense of serious harm arising from a sustained or systemic violation of a multiplicity of her basic human rights”.
“Put briefly, the harm faced is in the form of violence and religious, legislative and social discrimination through the enforcement of gender-based norms against women as a group in Saudi Arabia. The tribunal finds that there is a real chance this harm will occur.
“As to the question of whether the appellant can access state protection, the short answer is ‘no’. The evidence establishes that the state itself has created and maintained the legislative framework which, to a large extent, is the source of the serious harm faced by her.”
As an example of the threats she faced in Saudi Arabia, the tribunal said the woman’s family responded to news of her marriage by verbally abusing her, threatening to kill her and by stating that they would never again provide her any financial support. “The appellant’s mother threatened that the appellant should be physically harmed and, during one conversation, said that she should be burned alive for bringing such significant shame on the family.”