- Tiffany Turnbull
- BBC News, Sydney
On June 7, Australian authorities knocked on the door of an apartment in Sydney.
The mail was stacked in front of the door, and the tenants had not paid rent for more than three months.
Inside, police found the bodies of two women – two sisters from Saudi Arabia – who were in separate bedrooms, and the bodies were not found until weeks after death.
Two months later, despite “comprehensive investigations”, the police are still confused about what happened to Isra Abdullah al-Sahli (24) and Amal Abdullah al-Sahli (23).
Police said there were no signs of forced entry, no visible signs of injury, and described the death as “suspicious” and “unusual”.
The police are still waiting for the forensic report to know the cause of death. Local media reported that the preliminary results of the toxicology and autopsy were inconclusive.
“We don’t know much about the two girls,” Detective Claudia Alcroft told reporters last month in an appeal for anyone with information to come forward with police.
“We hope someone can help our investigators,” she added.
who are they
Little information has been released. The girls moved to Australia from Saudi Arabia in 2017 and requested asylum, but authorities have not explained why.
The police said there was “no indication” that their families should be suspected.
Both women worked as traffic controllers while studying at a vocational school, but their majors are unknown.
Michael Beard, the manager of the building where the sisters stayed, told reporters they had asked him to review security footage in the months before their deaths. According to Bird, they were worried that someone was messing with their food orders. But that footage revealed nothing.
Byrd asked police to contact them in March, and they told police they were fine.
Byrd told the Sydney Morning Herald that when he stopped alone later, the two sisters looked like “little birds that are afraid of something”.
Is there any evidence?
Police have not released much information, but the case has sparked a lot of interest in Australia – suicide, vicious wildlife, or something else?
Reports in the local media may provide some clues – but police have not confirmed anything. Moreover, this hodgepodge of information often paints a vague or seemingly contradictory picture.
The Australian newspaper “Sydney Morning Herald” reported that one of the women feared she would be persecuted for her sexual orientation in Saudi Arabia, while the other became an atheist, knowing that homosexuality and atheism are illegal in this conservative country. Islamic country.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that necklaces with Christian crosses were found in the women’s rooms.
Another report said their asylum applications had been rejected and they were finding it difficult to pay the rent.
An unidentified person told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he had seen an unknown man in the lobby of the sisters’ building several times before their deaths. When confronted, he said he was from the two women’s apartments.
It was also reported that the older sister, Esraa, succeeded in obtaining a restraining order against an unnamed man in 2019, but dropped it soon after.
Police have not commented on any of these reports, and the BBC has been unable to independently verify them.
The list of apartments for rent in this property again includes the phrase: “According to the police, this is not a random crime, and will not pose a potential danger to society.”
The Saudi expatriate community is on the edge of the precipice
The deaths of Israa and Amal caused panic among Saudi women in Australia.
“Many of us are very worried,” said Safaa, an activist and artist who asked to be identified only by her first name.
She told the BBC that Saudi authorities and families could still pose a danger to runaway women even after they arrived abroad.
She points to the story of Dina Ali Lasloom, who arrived in the Philippines in 2017 before her family members forced her to return to Saudi Arabia. Nothing has been heard from her since.
While Israa and Amal manage to leave Saudi Arabia, Safaa finds it hard to believe that the two sisters committed suicide in Sydney – the city where they lived for five years.
She says most of the Saudi asylum seekers in the city knew them before contact was lost six months ago.
“It is clear that something has gone wrong which has made them increasingly afraid and isolated,” she says.
‘Australia didn’t help them’
Sophie McNeil, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said no matter how the sisters died, it was clear Australia had failed them.
She told the BBC that any asylum seeker would find life “extremely difficult”, but Saudi women were “particularly at risk”.
“If you are Syrian or Afghani, you can benefit from a wider circle of people who are in a similar situation, but the community of Saudi female asylum seekers is very small, there is a lot of fear, a lot of suspicion,” she added .
In addition, many are experiencing financial hardship. In Australia, asylum seekers who are waiting for their applications to be assessed receive a small financial allowance.
“They often grow up in good financial terms, so the decision they make to flee is really an incredibly brave one,” says McNeil. “They turn their backs on financial security.”
Safaa agrees that such women face special circumstances. She adds that the decision to refuse visas to the two sisters – if it is correct as stated – is a “reckless and careless” decision, and has caused them unimaginable pressure.
“I am still upset that they may not have someone to support and guide them in the choices they make,” says Safaa.
McNeill and Safaa point out that this case underlines the need for Australia to better support the Saudi asylum seeker community.
“They were clearly experiencing loneliness and fear,” says McNeil.
“They came here for safety and we didn’t help them,” she says.