Forbidden love, elopement, prison and a worldwide appeal for asylum. It has all the makings of a grand and epic romance.
Except that this is real life for Huda al-Niran, a Saudi woman who defied her family by following the man of her dreams into Yemen and straight into the hands of immigration officials.
The BBC reports that the 22-year-old woman fell in love with a 25-year-old Yemeni man who was working in Saudi Arabia. However, her family disapproved of the relationship and rejected the man's marriage proposal. Call it madness or call it love (both would be apt and are often interchanged, anyways), al-Niran crossed illegally from Saudi Arabia to Yemen, risking arrest, deportation and possible violence from her family if she were sent home.
Al-Niran was arrested at the border in October and charged with crossing illegally. If convicted, she would be sent back home. However, the young woman filed for for asylum. The Agence France Press notes that the approval of the request would make it extremely difficult for the Yemeni government to expel her out of the country.
As the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement, al-Niran "fears physical harm from her family members, whom she said have beaten her in the past, if she is returned to Saudi Arabia."
The conflict extends beyond al-Niran's own family, though, and is complicated by greater tensions between the two countries. From land disputes, to power plays, to conflicting loyalties, the neighboring nations have had a long and fraught relationship.
According to AFP, Yemen has come under pressure by Saudi officials to deport the al-Niran, but the U.N. has stepped in to grant her protection while she applies for refugee status. U.N. officials expressed optimism that the young woman would succeed in getting asylum, which would leave her free to marry her Yemeni lover.
Like any great love story, al-Niran's is one that speaks for more than just the feelings between two people. The couple has won wide support in both Yemen and Saudi Arabia. During a recent court appearance, sympathizers gathered outside the building wearing headbands that read "We are all Huda."