Airports: First Line of Defense?

A common narrative associated with border security is that it constitutes the first line of defense of a nation’s security. For many women, it serves another purpose – their last line of defense, a last ditch opportunity to seek some assistance from law-enforcement before being forcibly disappeared.

Each case is different, yet there are chilling similarities which connect these stories to each other. Reasons vary, though the variations are few. Women, usually underage, are being flown overseas under the guise of vacation, or against their will, to undergo something that the Western countries they are leaving deem illegal, or immoral.

“For many of these girls, the ‘savior spoon’ was a last resort attempt at freedom.”

Clarion has previously covered the phenomenon of teenagers in the UK & the US who were encouraged to hide a metal spoon in their underpants if they were being sent overseas without their consent, often to be married. For many of these girls, the ‘savior spoon’ was a last resort attempt at freedom. After the spoon would set off x-rays, it provided the opportunity to be left alone for mere minutes with security personnel, and to confide in them about their desperate plight, all in the hope that they could somehow avoid being coerced by their families onto a plane, flying towards an uncertain future.

During our research, we communicated with many young women in the United Kingdom and the United States on forums such as reddits. These women expressed their concerns and suspicions that upcoming family trips were excuses for arranged or forced marriages, shabbily disguised as vacations.

“Many of these women were under the constant surveillance of their family”

These women were immediately encouraged to contact local law enforcement or to reach out to a social worker. However, we learned that for a large number of them, these paths were not an option. Many of these women were under the constant surveillance of their families, their phones and social media accounts were monitored and some were not even allowed to leave the house without a ‘reasonable’ excuse.

For these girls, their only chance to articulate their desperate situations is in the relative safety of border control offices. The security protocols, which for most feel arduous and inconvenient, although an understood necessity, are a gleam of freedom for a vulnerable group.

The concept of women being sent back to their family’s ancestral homelands and parents’ countries of origins for marriage is by no means a new, or unvisited area. For decades, traditional arranged marriage has been seen as an antidote for the ‘over-Westernization’ of women. It has also been used as a tool to facilitate and strengthen family and tribal ties by providing family members’ with possibility of residency in a Western country through marriage.

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The Twittersphere was rocked with the case of Rahaf Mohammed Qunun, an 18 year-old Saudi-Arabian girl, who attempted immigration to Australia. Rahaf identifies as an ex-Muslim. This distinction of apostasy is punishable by death in the oil rich kingdom.

Saudi Arabia, itself a tightly-governed monarchy entrenched in Islamic laws, is infamous for its ‘guardianship law’. This law, which denies basic freedoms of movement and expression to women, can deem them criminal offenders if they seek education, medical attention, a driver’s license or employment without the consent and accompaniment of a male guardian, known as a wali.

A 2016 Human Rights Watch report labeled the guardianship system as “the most significant impediment to recognizing women’s rights in the country,” and the kingdom has faced intense internal pressure for reform.

One of the most restrictive components of the guardianship system is the illegality for a woman to attempt travel or immigration without the consent and attendance of her wali. This, among so many elements of the system, systemically deprives women of any and all independence and provides very little protection to women subject to familial or domestic violence.

But there are women who have challenged these rules. They’ve risked their lives in pursuit of independence and freedom. They’ve taken chances with slim odds for the privilege of restarting their lives and the ability for any measure of self-autonomy. These are the girls that have used the airport as their last attempt at self-security. These are their stories.