Campaign for Raja Khouja, Syrian women’s rights campaigner facing deportation to Saudi Arabia

raja and mahmoud

This week we have highlighted the case of Raja and Mahmoud, a couple in Leeds, northern England, seeking sanctuary but facing forced removal from the UK.


UPDATE JUNE 27

Raja and Mahmoud were released from Yarl’s Wood yesterday afternoon!

Raja sends this message:

Today I feel I was born. I feel that I have my freedom and life thanks to the British people – all my friends and all those who I have never met but who supported my case and spoke out for me. I run out of words to tell you how much I thank you. I have great respect and warm love to every one of you.

My message is to all my friends and to the world that the people of Britain respect and know what freedom, justice and human rights mean.

Having been detained and imprisoned I personally feel what freedom is. My dream is that all those countries round the world could have the same freedoms to campaign for justice and human rights that you have shown that you have used so well. May God bless and protect the people of this country who have shown me love, respect and have given me my freedom and justice.

Mahmoud says ‘Amen’!


Earlier this month, Syrian women’s rights campaigner Raja Khouja (56) and her Saudi husband Mahmoud Alhassan (67) were taken to the Yarl’s Wood detention centre, and booked on a deportation flight, even though their asylum application was still active. This sparked a massive community campaign, which persuaded the airline to cancel their deportation flight – the confirmation coming from Qatar Airways just ahead of the news that Raja’s legal team had been successful with a legal action to halt the removal.

Raja is Syrian, and the couple lived together in Syria for 13 years before coming to the UK four years ago, but they are facing removal to her husband’s home country Saudi Arabia, where Raja would be in extreme danger. She is a well-known women’s rights campaigner and blogger, and has written many times about her views on the denial of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.  The Saudi Mutawa (the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice) has denounced Raja. She received at least three threats on her life for actions such as observing International Women’s Day Festivals and writing articles promoting the rights of women to vote, show their faces in public, drive a car, and so on.

The high profile campaign has attracted mainstream media coverage and has included a vigil with 150 people at the local Home Office centre, a Facebook campaign, and online resources including a petition which has gathered over 47,000 signatures in 24 hours. With the deportation flight scheduled for Thursday 25th, we joined a protest outside Qatar Airways at Harrods, London. Raja’s friends were overjoyed when Qatar Airways contacted to say “Qatar Airways has decided not to accept two passengers who were due to fly from London tomorrow on medical grounds. Qatar Airways has informed the respective Home Office department of its decision”. Shortly afterwards, we heard of the successful legal action.

vigil

Specialist immigration solicitor Emma Brooksbank of Simpson Millar is representing the pair and in a press release today said: “At a hearing in London today, Mr Justice Dove and Upper Tribunal Judge Canavan ordered a stay on the removal of the applicant Raja Khouja and her dependant husband Mahmoud Alhassan. The stay has been ordered until consideration of the application for permission to proceed with the Judicial Review has taken place or until further order.”

harrods

The permission hearing for a judicial review could take a few weeks, and the legal team will now be applying for bail for Raja and Mahmoud, to have them released from Yarl’s Wood, where they have been locked up since June 5.

Raja and Mahmoud’s struggle is far from over. The community campaign, and support group working closely with an expert legal team, has won the initial victories to stay the removal. The real legal challenge, for sanctuary and the right to remain, moves to another legal stage soon.

Message, June 24

Raja’s not allowed on Facebook in Yarl’s Wood but here is a message posted on her behalf:

“I am so happy and delighted at the way so many people have supported me. I thank everybody who has spoken out for me from the bottom of my heart. I run out of words to thank you enough. God bless you and God bless the people of Britain.

Britain is a democratic country where there is justice and human rights and people can speak out for what they believe in as you have just shown by doing it for me. My dream is that one day we will be able to do the same across the Arab world.”

Stay tuned for news:

Online Petition
All Hallows Church, Leeds
Facebook: Friends of Raja and Mahmoud



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