Megan Crawford: Meet the family trying to flee the Saudi Government in Scotland

Megan Crawford of the Scottish Secular Society explains the story of Haifa Alshamrani's family, who are seeking asylum in Scotland

THE Scottish Secular Society is calling upon the Home Office to recognise the needs of local asylum seekers as they fight to free themselves from the abusive control of Saudi Arabia.

A family in our local community has spent over a year being harassed and pursued by the Saudi Government across the UK. Haifa Alshamrani, along with her husband Amri and their two children, came here in 2013 to complete her medical degree, with the hopes of returning home to practice medicine. 

However, after refusing to promote questionably illegal dealings for the Saudi government inside the UK, coupled with their criminal ideologies of atheism, they find themselves at the worst end of a human rights issue masked as a political battle.

The family refused to funnel the money and refused to promote the state’s religion in the UK. As a result, the consequences have been severe and unrelenting.

Shortly after beginning her studies in the UK, Haifa’s husband, Amri, a maths teacher, was approached by a local Saudi student organisation, through the Saudi Embassy, and instructed to continue efforts started by his Saudi predecessor of converting a local church into a Wahhabi mosque. 

Wahhabism is the ultra-orthodox and primary faith in Saudi Arabia, where women, like Haifa, are required to be fully covered by an abaya, hijab, and gloves in public, adultery is punishable by stoning, and apostasy and atheism are punishable by death.

Money began to appear in their UK accounts without their consent or prior knowledge, and with vague instructions to account for it in Amri’s name. The family believes the Saudi Government was attempting to use the position of its citizens within the UK to circumvent official regulations and launder money for the purposes of furthering the foothold of their religious zealotry.

The family refused to funnel the money and refused to promote the state’s religion in the UK. As a result, the consequences have been severe and unrelenting. Strangers, sent by the Saudi Government, they believe, have visited their home at night to harass them and coerce them into compliance. Haifa’s scholarship and stipend were cancelled and their Saudi bank accounts frozen with no reasons offered. The Saudi Government says it will discuss the reasons behind these developments only if the family returns to Saudi Arabia, and will not reinstate any of their funds as long as they remain outside.

With no scholarship paying her tuition, Haifa was forced to withdraw from the university. Without access to their savings in Saudi Arabia, their ability to feed their family and pay bills quickly ran short. Then, finally with the revoking of her student visa in lieu of their asylum claim, their ability to work and earn money to feed their family and pay their bills was taken away.

With the help of their local MP, Patrick Grady, their case was heard before the Home Office. However, that was almost four months ago, and as yet no decision has been reached.

As Haifa so poignantly declared: "We are nothing to the law, because now we are asylum seekers."

What many fail to realise is the extreme normalcy of Haifa’s and Amri’s story. They are not the first Saudi nationals in a foreign country to be bullied into funneling government money to further a religious agenda. 

What Haifa and her family have done, however, is extraordinary. They are attempting to break from an oppressive regime, who publically equate them with terrorists, and build a life that not only benefits them, but others as well. 

Since recently going public with their plight and seeking asylum assistance, outside bullying tactics have revamped against the family. Haifa’s and Amri’s Twitter and Facebook accounts are filling again with public declarations of blasphemy, shame, and violence against them from strangers supporting Islam.

Local organisations, such as the Scottish Secular Society and Glasgow Skeptics, stand in support for Haifa and her family.

This is a human rights issue being treated as a political issue, and it must stop. People are not pawns for political or religious gain.

We cannot simply ignore the abuses of the Saudi Government across international boarders. Haifa and her family are guilty of nothing more than refusing to spread hate and act as puppets for their government. 

In return, they are being punished and nearly starved out of their own home. This is a human rights issue being treated as a political issue, and it must stop. People are not pawns for political or religious gain.

Haifa will be sharing her story at a public talk on 2 June, at 7:30pm, in the Annie Besant Lodge, 17 Queens Crescent, St. George’s Cross, Glasgow, G4 9BL, hosted by the Scottish Secular Society. All are encouraged to attend. There will be a question and answer session after Haifa’s talk so you can learn more of their story and how you might be able to help.

The Scottish Secular Society is one of Scotland's largest secular organisations and campaigns for the rights of all citizens.

Picture courtesy of Alyssa L. Miller