It was back in 2013 when I decided to seek asylum in Mainland China. Yes, I know mainland China is not exactly a ” pro human rights ” country but I had no other choice. I was studying and living in China at that time. I heard the news by friends who are still in Saudi that the Saudi Arabian intelligence police are starting a campaign against activists and bloggers accusing them of apostasy and terrorism to justify long prison or death sentences . Many have been arrested with no charges or trials too! some were banned from traveling outside Saudi Arabia.. and some tried to escape and failed like Hamaza Khasghari and some made it and escaped just like me!
This Anti-activists campaign comes as no surprise to everyone after the Arab spring, As Saudi Arabia knew that this political chaos is sooner or later going to hit Saudi. At first, it started with high profile activists like Raif Badawi and Waleed Abukhair and Shia rebels who were protesting in Eastern province where majority of Shiite minority lives. Then this campaign extended further more to include some other activists and Sunni religious figures who are anti Al Saud regime.
It is difficult to tell how many have been arrested or killed since this campaign started! many who were imprisoned did not want to make their arrest go public, as they fear that publicity will negatively affect their trial like it did with other activists before them.
One of them is a friend of mine, A.H.S whom I asked him to join me in China before its too late. Unfortunately, it was too late for him. He was arrested and charged with apostasy. He was released not so long ago after he appealed but he is still banned from traveling out of Saudi Arabia.
Seeing the news of continuous arbitrary detention of Saudi activists was upsetting, but what is even more upsetting was this international ” silence” that is bought by the Saudi black gold.
All this made me reckon that staying in Saudi as an activist wouldn’t be a good idea. Thats when I decided seek asylum in China.
Not knowing how things work, I first went to the Norwegian embassy which advised me to go to UNHCR– Beijing. I was given an appointment in 2014. Then it took another year of intensive investigation and extremely long very tiring and emotional interviews before the committee of UNHCR come to their final decision which was in May 2015.
I will never forget the phone call when the a member of the UNHCR told me that my request of international protection has been approved by the committee. I was in shock, I remember I cried and smiled at the same time upon receiving the news through the phone.
Maybe it was a combination of sadness and happiness.. knowing that this is it, a one way ticket to freedom and the no return point. I will be gaining freedom but losing family, friends and a lot more. I must admit, It is a very difficult compromise . I still recall Manal Al Sharif warning me saying ”Omaima, don’t burn the bridges behind you, you might want to go back”.
There were difficult times in which I had feelings of regret, self-pity and nostalgia. For instance, the time I had a car accident in China in April 2016 and I was alone with an injured spinal cord. Another time when I had legal issues in Norway when I was trying to transfer my UNHCR refugee status to Norway and it didn’t work. Then when I was brought by police force to Italy and sent to a former prison that was transformed into a illegal refugee reception center! yes, Ironically My UNHCR refugee status was meaningless and useless that is what I found out later. Maybe I will write about those horrible experiences that I had to go through in another post.
I had to go through the suffering again and repeat the process in Italy, I had to go through everything from zero as if I have not done it before. I came to Italy in the summer of 2016. and received the news on the 10th of Nov 2017. It took about 15 very long months.
As you might all know, Europe is going through refugee crisis. However, Italy along with Greece deal with the crisis the most because of the high influx of migrants coming by the sea from the Libyan shores. Italy is one of the worst countries to be refugee in. I must say being a refugee here is not a walk in the park. It takes a high threshold of patience to be able to endure all this suffering I have been through. So Saudi activists out there be warned, the price of freedom is high. Sadly, pain, loneliness and hardship is part of it. I will be writing a post about My journey as asylum seeker sometime in the future.
I writing this post to just happily announce that finally this very long and bitter struggle is over and My journey has came to an end. Now with this political refugee status I can obtain a refugee travel document and legal papers that allow me to stay in Italy, travel abroad and have a normal life.