An Emirati woman who fled her family and is now trapped in a detention centre in North Macedonia is begging to be allowed to claim asylum elsewhere instead of being deported back home, the Guardian has learned. Hind Mohammed al-Bolooki, 43, says she was locked in a room at her home in Dubai in October…
An Emirati woman who fled her family and is now trapped in a detention centre inNorth Macedoniais begging to be allowed to claim asylum elsewhere instead of being deported back home, the Guardian has learned.
Hind Mohammed al-Bolooki, 43, says she was locked in a room at her home in Dubai in October last year by family members after she asked for a divorce, but she managed to escape and leave the country.
Her asylum application in North Macedonia was rejected on Tuesday after what Bolooki’s friends claim was pressure on the local authorities from the UAE to send her back to her family.
Bolooki was given a grace period of 15 days to leave the country, but she has been held at a detention centre for immigrants since 7 December with no prospect of release, and it is feared she will be deported back to the UAE when the clock runs out.
“I don’t know how to get out of here,” she said in a voice message.
In a video filmed in December while hiding just before she was arrested in the North Macedonian capital, Skopje, Bolooki said her family would not grant her request for a divorce and demanded her passport because they could not trust her.
“I am a mother of four children. No mother would leave her kids like this,” she said, voice breaking. “But I had to leave my kids. I had no other choice.”
Attempts to reach Bolooki’s family for comment went unanswered or were unsuccessful.
Bolooki made her escape after being allowed to go to the toilet. She climbed through a window without her shoes and hid on a nearby construction site for two hours before asking a taxi driver to take her to a friend’s house in Sharjah, a city half an hour away.
She had already left her passport in the safekeeping of a sympathetic acquaintance. “That’s when she called me and asked me to book her a ticket to North Macedonia,” said Nenad Dimitrov, a close friend.
The pair had met while he worked as a personal trainer on a luxury cruise liner in Florida. They stayed friends, visiting each other in Dubai and Skopje. “She said she couldn’t use her own credit card. And I knew something was different this time,” he said.
Bolooki travelled overland to Bahrain and then flew through Turkey and Serbia to Dimitrov’s family home. The euphoria of a successful escape was quickly extinguished by the realities of negotiating North Macedonia’s legal system to apply for asylum and a lack of contact with her children.
At home, a family friend said Bolooki’s youngest children, aged 13 and 14, did not know their mother’s whereabouts and had been told she was on a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Her 20-year-old daughter, Fatma, has been desperate for news of her mother, but contact with her stopped suddenly a few weeks ago. Bolooki’s friends fear her phone has been taken away.
At every stage of the process, North Macedonia officials pressured her to drop her case and return home to her family, Bolooki’s immigration lawyer and Dimitrov allege.
Bolooki was arrested and taken to the Gazi Baba immigration detention centre on 7 December on the grounds that she posed a threat to national security while her asylum application was pending. She has not been allowed visitors or access to her lawyer.
The final rejection of her asylum application on Tuesday – on the grounds she did not face danger if she returned home to the UAE – included a 15-day grace period to leave the country. The refugee is keen to seek asylum somewhere else but cannot do so from detention.
The Helsinki Committee, a human rights NGO, has tried to intervene, accusing the North Macedonian government of violating Bolooki’s rights by detaining her and rejecting her asylum at the request of the UAE.
“It appears Bolooki’s case had been rushed through the asylum system at an unprecedented speed so the authorities can close her case and send her home,” the committee’s director, Uranija Pirovska, told local television.
“She has no criminal record and no reason has been given for her detention. It is also exceptional that she has not been allowed visitors. The case is suspicious from top to bottom.”
According to watchdog Transparency International, North Macedonia scores 35 out of 100 in itsperceived level of public sector corruption.
Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher atHuman Rights Watch, said: “Certainly if an Emirati woman flees to a country that doesn’t have a strong rule of law, it’s possible that the UAE can exert monetary and diplomatic pressure to send her back home.
“Sheikha Latifais an instructive case. There was clearly pressure put on the Indian government to board that boat and take her back. There is a lot of interest in fleeing Saudi women at the moment but the situation for Emirati and other women in the Gulf is often just as bad.”
Sheikha Latifa, the 33-year-old daughter of Dubai’s powerful ruler, made headlines last year after she reportedly escaped ill-treatment by her family, only to be seized by armed men from a yacht off the coast of India and returned to the UAE.
The UAE denied Sheikha Latifa fled ill-treatment and says she is safe and well at home with her family.
Unlike in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, in the UAE control of women’s freedom of movement by male guardians is not written into law, but in practice travel is often highly restricted by husbands and fathers. Women cannot marry without a male relative’s permission and Emirati law prioritises men in personal status matters such as marriage, divorce and custody of children.
“Hind has been through such awful things,” said Dimitrov. “I’m worried I will get in trouble for helping her. But I’m more worried she will be locked away or killed if she goes back.”
Several UAE sources, including the UAE embassy in Rome, which handles the country’s relations with North Macedonia, as well as the North Macedonia embassy in London were contacted for comment on this story but did not respond by the time of publication.