Saudi woman held at Bangkok airport fears death if returned to family

Rahaf Al Qunun posted

Image Rahaf Alqunun posted this

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, says she is trying to flee her family, and that Saudi authorities took her passport on arrival in Thailand.

Alqunun's plan to seek refuge in Australia was nearly stopped Saturday, when she said a Saudi diplomat took her passport when she landed in Bangkok.

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who said her family wants to kill her barricaded herself inside an airport hotel in Bangkok to prevent being expelled by Thai immigration authorities who on Monday halted a plan to put her on a plane to Kuwait. She said Saudi and Thai officials then told her she would be returned to Kuwait on Monday, where her father and brother were awaiting her.

In a video shared on social media, al-Qunun said that she will not leave the room until she has a meeting with United Nations officials. "Since she escaped trouble to seek our help, we are the Land of Smiles, we will not send anyone to their death", he said.

UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the agency is working to find a solution to Alqunun's situation.

According to a report by MailOnline, Thailand's immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told Agence France-Presse, "Rahaf Mohammed M Alqunun ran away from her family to avoid marriage and she is concerned she may be in trouble returning to Saudi Arabia".

Thailand's immigration police chief says the young Saudi woman seeking passage to asylum in Australia will be temporarily admitted to Thailand for evaluation by the United Nations refugee agency.

Abuse by her family was one of the reasons Alqunun cited for fleeing. "We will not send anyone to die", he added. She took a taxi to the airport in Kuwait around 4 a.m. local time after making sure her father was asleep.

Alqunun told Human Rights Watch that she was fleeing beatings and death threats from her male relatives who forced her to remain in her room for six months for cutting her hair. Because she did not have a visa to enter Thailand, he said police had denied her entry and were in the process of repatriating her through the same airline she had taken, Kuwait Airways.

Mr Surachate said he would meet Saudi diplomats on Tuesday to clarify Thailand's decision.

She had been detained at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport since Saturday night but she refused to board a flight back to Kuwait to rejoin her family Monday.

A young Saudi woman says she is stranded at Bangkok's main airport after fleeing her family and having her passport seized by a Saudi official.

The incident comes against the backdrop of intense scrutiny on Saudi Arabia over its investigation and handling of the shocking murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi a year ago, which has renewed criticism of the kingdom's rights record.

He noted her tweets mentioned "she does not want Islam", adding that "this type of thing, in her country, is a hard crime".

The agency maintains that refugees and asylum seekers - whether confirmed to be in need of its protection or claiming to need it - can not legally be returned to their countries of origin, the UNHRC said in a statement, citing the principle of "non-refoulement".

"She is under the care of the UNHCR now but we also sent Thai security to help take care (of her)", Surachate told reporters at Suvarnabhumi airport.

Thailand is known to deport refugees to countries such as China, Pakistan and it was being said that Qunan too would be sent back to her home country.

Human Rights Watch's deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson has more. Human Rights Watch in a statement pointed out that this system of guardianship makes it extremely hard for victims of violence to seek protection or legal recourse for domestic abuse.

The teenager is the daughter of Saudi government official Mohammed Alqunun who has arrived in Bangkok to bring her home.

Women in Saudi Arabia are subject to male guardianship laws, which mean they need a male relative's permission to work, travel, marry, open a bank account, or even leave prison.

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"Given Saudi Arabia's long track record of looking the other way in so-called honour violence incidents, her worry that she could be killed if returned cannot be ignored", he said. "We hope that the embassy from another country can help her", the woman said.

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