Border Force enforces Saudi Arabia's anti-women policies at airports

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(Image screenshot abc.net.au/4corners)

When unaccompanied Saudi women with Australian visas arrive at our airports, our Border Force agents ask them: why are you travelling without a male guardian? Dr Jennifer Wilson asks, what has Australia become?

IT WAS REVEALED in ABC TV's Four Corners on Monday, February 4, that when unaccompanied Saudi women with an Australian tourist visa arrive at one of our airports, Border Force agents ask them: Why are you travelling without a male guardian?

Saudi Arabia has a severe and discriminatory male guardianship system that demands every woman be under the control of a father, brother, husband, son or male relative from the day she is born until she the day dies. A woman cannot apply for a passport, travel outside the country, study abroad, marry, or even leave prison without the permission of her male guardian.

Border Force officers assume Saudi women travelling alone are doing so without the permission of their male guardians. For reasons that remain unclear, Border Force, under the direction of Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, appears to have become an arm of the Saudi regime, enforcing that Kingdom’s ruthless policies, which deny women their human rights.

The very fact of the question, Why are you travelling without a male guardian, is evidence that the Australian government is colluding with the Saudis to enforce the guardianship system. Our current government is enforcing Saudi law at the airport. It is not our law that women must have male guardians throughout our lives. It is not a condition of entry to this country that we have the permission of or are accompanied by a male guardian. So why is this question being asked of Saudi women travelling on a legitimate passport with a tourist visa?

When did Peter Dutton agree to police Saudi women on behalf of their government and why?

Why is the Australian government acting as an arm of the Saudi regime in its oppression of women?

Four Corners alleges that several Saudi women have been refused entry to Australia and returned to their homeland when Border Force officers judged them as likely to request asylum. At least two of those women made it clear to the officers they were seeking sanctuary and, despite this, they were refouled, without any opportunity to have their claims assessed.

It appears that under the direction of Peter Dutton, Border Force officials are empowered to refoul asylum seekers and they use racial profiling as the basis of their decisions.

When Saudi teenager Rahaf al-Qunun fled her country she had an Australian visa. She was in transit through Bangkok when detained by Thai authorities, and she managed to barricade herself in a transit hotel room, from where she tweeted her situation out to the world. Rahaf feared severe retribution and likely death should she be returned to her family — a fear that was upheld by the UNHCR officials who declared her be a refugee.

The first response of the Australian Government, represented by Immigration Minister David Coleman under the direction of Peter Dutton, was to cancel her Australian tourist visa. The visa was cancelled only hours after Rahaf’s story broke on Twitter and before any assessment was made of her request for asylum.

This is Australia today. A country that, as its first response, cancels the visa of a teenager who faces life-long abuse and the possibility of death if she is returned to her homeland.

Then there are the two Saudi sisters travelling on valid visas through Hong Kong to Sydney in September 2018. An Australian Border Force official at Hong Kong airport detained the women, decided they intended to seek asylum in Australia and had their visas cancelled by Home Affairs. The women have since been hiding in Hong Kong, eluding their families and officials.

Border Force agents have been granted immense power by their boss, Peter Dutton. At the point of entry, they are authorised to deny these women any opportunity to apply for asylum. They do this based on racial grounds and by using Saudi law as an interrogatory tool. Not Australian law. Saudi law.

The Saudi guardianship system is State-sanctioned gender violence at its most extreme. Any woman who escapes it has legitimate grounds for requesting asylum. And yet, women are prevented by Peter Dutton from accessing the asylum process.

The inescapable conclusion is that Australia is complicit in the extreme Saudi abuse of women, including their torture and murder. It has been obvious for some time that the Coalition Government is no friend to women domestically. However, its support of Saudi Arabia’s medieval regime takes this hostlity to another level. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton are denying Saudi women all access to asylum requests, and are refouling them, contrary to our international obligations and international law, to a country where they will suffer harsh punishment and, in some cases, death.  

Australia is egregiously harsh towards asylum seekers and has been for some decades now. However, the discrimination against Saudi women is blatantly gender and race-based profiling.

We may have long suspected that successive governments have made racist decisions about who can and cannot be resettled as a refugee in this country, and who and who may not apply for asylum. Now we have incontestable proof that the Australian Government uses racial and gender-based profiling to empower its Border Force agents to refuse entry to women travelling on valid visas who they suspect may apply for asylum. Worse, they also refuse entry to women who request the opportunity to apply for asylum, sending them, in full knowledge of their fate, back to their homeland and the gender-based violence they are fleeing.

Well may we ask, what has Australia become?

You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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