‘Atheist’ who fled Saudi Arabia fears being killed if deported from SA

25 August 2021 - 12:39 By ernest mabuza
A woman who fled to SA from Saudi Arabia fears she might be killed if deported after her application for asylum was refused. File photo.
A woman who fled to SA from Saudi Arabia fears she might be killed if deported after her application for asylum was refused. File photo.
Image: Alaister Russell

An ex-Muslim atheist and Yemeni national from Saudi Arabia has made an impassioned plea to SA authorities to give her enough time to find a safe homeland and not be forcibly deported to the “hell I escaped from”.

Khadega Nasser fears that if she is deported to Yemen or Saudi Arabia, she is at risk of being killed for renouncing her religion.

Nasser made the plea this week after her application for asylum on religious grounds was refused by the standing committee for refugee affairs (SCRA).

Nasser was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1993. She fled the country in 2019 and came to SA, where she applied for asylum on religious grounds.

“I spent all of my life in Riyadh with my family. I was forced to wear the hijab since childhood. When I was four years old, I was sexually abused by a relative,” Nasser said.

She said in addition to repetitive assaults, beatings, captivity and attempts to kill her by suffocation and multiple forced marriage attempts, she was also deprived of her right to education.

“I used to live in a prison called home where I did not have any feelings of love, respect and humanity and no rights. I was literally a slave. All this led me to think of escaping from that hell,” Nasser said.

So she fled to SA.

“I went to the department of home affairs offices in Pretoria to apply for asylum. To my surprise I was rejected twice without consulting with me or my lawyer.”

The refugee status determination officer’s decision, dated October 29 2019, stated: “Your application for asylum lodged in terms of section 22 of the Refugees Act 130 of 1998 is rejected as manifestly unfounded.”

On August 13, Nasser received another letter informing her the SCRA, which must review decisions by the refugee status determination officer (RSDO) in respect of a manifestly unfounded application, had upheld the decision of the RSDO.

“As a foreigner, you cannot stay in the country on a temporary basis indefinitely. You will be handed over to the immigration inspectorate to be dealt with in terms of the Immigration Act 13 of 2002, as amended in 2004,” the letter from the Pretoria refugee reception office read.

Nasser said her request to the authorities was to have her passport returned as it has been with the department of home affairs since September 2019.

“Give me enough time to find a safe homeland, and not forcibly deporting me to the hell I escaped from. My deportation is death,” Nasser said.

She said she has contacted many organisations and was waiting for their help. 

Nasser’s plight has attracted the attention of the Center For Inquiry (CFI), a non-profit organisation which promotes secular values. CFI wrote a letter in March in support of her asylum application.

In the letter, CFI said Nasser was an ex-Muslim atheist and Yemeni national from Saudi Arabia, where blasphemy (against Islam) and abandonment or renunciation of Islam were considered crimes effectively punishable by imprisonment or state-sanctioned execution.

“Khadega chose SA as a final destination as she believes she can live as an autonomous woman there, free from strict, male Islamic control and abuse,” CFI’s case manager for secular values, Kat Parker, said in the letter.

Elham Manea, a writer and human rights advocate based in Switzerland, also wrote a letter to home affairs in March “to stand up for Khadega Nasser”.

“Her situation is doubly compounded by real and direct threats of persecution in Yemen and Saudi Arabia,” Manea said. 

Contacted for comment, the home affairs department said the case was reviewed by the SCRA, which confirmed the applicant did not meet the criteria for international protection.

Department spokesperson Siya Qoza said members of the SCRA were appointed by the home affairs minister and were qualified, trained and experienced people with legal backgrounds and qualifications.

He said members of this statutory body operated independently of the department.

“As part of the application process, if the client still feels aggrieved by the decision of the statutory bodies, such person can appeal the decision at the high court. This is provided for to ensure the humanitarian element of the international protection is safeguarded at all material time,” said Qoza.

He said if the applicant does not challenge the decision of the statutory bodies, they had an option of self-deportation or could be deported by the department via the Lindela Repatriation Centre.