Asra Abdullah Alsehli (24) and her sister Amaal Abdullah Alsehli (23) were found dead in their Sydney apartment in June 2022. Credit: NSW Police.
Two Saudi sisters, who had reportedly applied for asylum in Australia on the grounds that one was a lesbian woman and the other an atheist, were found dead in a Southwest Sydney flat in June 2022. The sisters had had their applications for permanent protection visas, based on sexuality and religious beliefs, denied earlier this year.
Trigger Warning: This story discusses deaths of two women, which might be distressing to some readers. For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.
The sisters, Asra Abdullah Alsehli, 24, and Amaal Abdullah Alsehli, 23, were found dead in their Canterbury unit in Sydney’s southwest on June 7. Their bodies had remained undiscovered for over a month.
The sisters had reportedly applied for subclass 866 protection visas, a permanent visa option for people who are seeking political asylum and are at risk in the home countries.
A source told The Australian that one of the women had applied for a visa on the grounds that she was an atheist, and the other had applied because she was a lesbian.
Both homosexuality and atheism are illegal in Saudi Arabia, which is known for its strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law.
The unnamed source had told The Australian that Amaal Abdullah Alsehli was denied her visa as she was unable to give further details about the gay events that she had attended. Her sister, Asra Abdullah Alsehli, failed to give sufficient evidence about her lack of religious beliefs to be granted the visa.
The publication also reported that one of the women had claimed that she was fleeing from a forced marriage.
A source told ABC’s Background Briefing that the sisters believed a private investigator had been following them.
Sisters Lived In Fear Of Their Safety
The news follows reports which found that the sisters attended a “girls-only-queer event” in January. A woman who met the sisters at the event has recently come forward, telling The Guardian that they spoke about what the experience of being queer was like in Saudi Arabia.
“They said women live in fear of their safety and that they were grateful to be living in Australia, where they could more freely express themselves,” the woman said.
She said that this news was “terribly sad” and stated that the sisters were “excited to be out at an event like this and that they were ready to start exploring more of Sydney. They should’ve been safe in Australia.”
If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.
For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14
For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.
Saudi Arabian communities in Sydney responds
Activist Saffa, who has worked with young women seeking asylum from Saudi Arabia, told SBS that the thought of the two women unable to seek help was “really distressing”.
She said that their deaths had caused a ripple of fear among Sydney’s Saudi communities, “there is a sense of fear and safety, they don’t feel safe.”
Saffa added that no one in the community believed that the women died of suicide. “You don’t die of suicide in separate rooms with your sister. Wouldn’t you want to be in your final hours and minutes, with your sister in the same room?”
A police source told The Daily Telegraph that there had been no indication of anyone else being in the unit, “No forced entry. It really does appear to be a tragic suicide.”
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