Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai and UAE country expert witness, spoke with Hind Al-Bolooki from detention in Macedonia, pledging to help her secure freedom from abuse and provide expert testimony for her asylum application.
Ms Stirling issued the following statement:
Today I had a conference call with Hind Al-Bolooki and some of her friends and supporters. Hind could barely speak above a whisper, and I could sense the desperation in her voice. She wanted to know whether Canada or whomever would send her back to the UAE. She is utterly terrified of that possibility. Hind has photographic evidence of the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband, and the outrageous set of rules he expected her to follow have already been circulated in social media; they amount to house arrest.
Hind’s journey to Macedonia was arduous. She escaped her family with nothing but her passport and a handbag. She traveled through Bahrain, Turkey, and Serbia to reach the only friends she had whom she could trust not to send her back to the UAE.
After applying for asylum, she was free in Macedonia for two months while her application was processed; but was then arrested on December 8th. Following her arrest, Hind was visited by high-ranking Macedonian officials, including Zoran Verushevski, an advisor to Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. She was pressured to return to the UAE voluntarily. Officials also pressured Hind’s friends in Macedonia to convince her to go back. This unusual level of intervention by the government on behalf of the UAE indicates that her asylum application was predetermined for rejection.
Despite the carefully crafted image the UAE presents to the world as a modern, liberal country; the fact is that the patriarchal culture and informal male guardianship rules in the Emirates are just as pervasive as in Saudi Arabia. The treatment of women in the UAE, whether foreigners or locals, can be unimaginably harsh. Emirati women continue to need their guardians’ permission to work, to travel, or even to step foot outside their own homes, if the male relative chooses to be particularly restrictive.
We have seen rape victims arrested and charged with having sex outside marriage; women denied custodial access to their children after divorce; and the laws actually stipulate the necessity of female obedience to a male guardian. Divorce initiated by a wife is remarkably difficult, but remarkably easy for a husband. Hind had to make the impossibly painful decision to flee the UAE and leave her children behind because she simply had no other choice that would ensure both her freedom and her safety.
Like Sheikha Latifa before her, whose status as the daughter of the Ruler of Dubai still did not protect her against the oppression and abuse of the patriarchal culture of the UAE; Hind recognised that the only way she could ever live and be treated as an adult, free, autonomous human being, was to get out of the United Arab Emirates. The desperation in her voice, was the same desperation I heard when I received the call from Sheikha Latifa, who did not make it to safety. We want to ensure that Hind does not share her fate.
The UAE has publicly stated that they would assist Hind in any way possible, but these assurances are designed to improve the image of the government, and neither to support Hind nor to improve the lives of women in the Emirates. We know that these offers of assistance are disingenuous because until now, the UAE appears to have been applying pressure to the Macedonian government to send Hind back. The Emirates has made several major investments throughout the Balkans, with very little transparency, and apparently wield a significant degree of soft power to influence the government. They have not used this power to support Hind, but instead, to frustrate her bid for freedom.
The only things the UAE can do to help Hind at this point are to consent to her relocation to a safe country, and to facilitate her being reunited there with her children.
Hind possesses an entry visa for Canada, and intends to travel there to apply for asylum. I will provide Canadian authorities with an expert report on the state of women’s rights in the UAE. A ticket is being arranged for her, and Detained in Dubai is working with Hind’s friend, activist Jérémy Desvages, to take every possible step to help Hind start a new life in Canada.
Radha Stirling, is founder and CEO of UK / USA based legal and human rights organisation Detained in Dubai, Expert Witness and respected analyst of Middle East Policy.
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