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Hong Kong allows fleeing Saudi sisters to stay another month

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Saudi sisters Rawan (in yellow), 18, and Reem, 20, (both using adopted aliases) stand next to each other during an interview with AFP in Hong Kong on February 22, 2019. They have been granted an extension to stay in Hong Kong until next month, their lawyer said.

[HONG KONG] Two Saudi sisters fleeing what they described as beatings and repression in their home country have been granted an extension to stay in Hong Kong until next month, their lawyer said.

The sisters, who have renounced their Muslim faith, arrived in the Chinese territory in September 2018 after fleeing a family holiday in Sri Lanka and had booked a connecting flight to Australia.

The women said the connecting flight was cancelled and they were intercepted by officials who tried to put them on a flight to Riyadh. They managed to escape and enter Hong Kong as visitors, lawyer Michael Vidler said.

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They have been in hiding in the city ever since.

"Hong Kong immigration authorities have confirmed that the presence of the HK Saudi sisters in Hong Kong will be further tolerated until April 8, 2019," Mr Vidler wrote in a statement posted on his firm's Facebook page.

The sisters are the second high-profile example in Asia this year of Saudi women seeking to escape their country.

An 18-year-old Saudi woman fled her family in January saying she feared for her life and barricaded herself in a Bangkok hotel room before eventually being granted asylum in Canada.

The sisters, aged 18 and 20, whose identities have not been revealed, say they could face death if they are deported.

Saudi Arabia's Consul General in Hong Kong had earlier declined to comment on the case when reached by Reuters.

"We are urgently seeking clarification from Hong Kong immigration authorities and continue to press for an urgent determination of the sisters' visas to a 3rd country place of safety," Mr Vidler said.

Amnesty International last month urged Hong Kong authorities not to return the sisters to Saudi Arabia, saying they had fled the kingdom after "repeated abuse by male relatives".

The sisters said in a statement that the Saudi authorities have been actively looking for them but they weren't able to leave Hong Kong as their passports had been cancelled.

"We feel like fish trapped in a little oasis that is rapidly drying out. We are in constant fear of being found by the Saudi authorities and our family and forced to return to Saudi Arabia," they said.

REUTERS