Published: Tue, January 08, 2019
Global Media | By Garry Long

Saudi teen seeks asylum, barricades herself in Thai airport

Saudi teen seeks asylum, barricades herself in Thai airport

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who said she was fleeing her abusive family and was desperately seeking asylum barricaded herself inside her hotel room at a Bangkok, Thailand airport to keep from being put on a plane to Kuwait City, where her family was waiting, Human Rights Watch said Monday.

Saudi Arabia requires that a woman have the consent of a male relative - usually a father or husband - to obtain a passport, travel overseas or marry.

Friends of Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Alqunun, 18, claim she was nearly forced onto a flight from Thailand back to Kuwait despite seeking asylum in Australia.

A Thai human rights worker who spoke to Alqunun said she told him she had been held in her room by her family for six months because she had cut her hair.

Qunun was stopped by immigration because Saudi Arabian officials contacted them to say she had fled her family, he added.

On Monday evening local time, Thailand's chief of immigration police Surachate Hakparn confirmed that Ms Mohammed al-Qunun was "allowed to stay", and that she "left the airport with the UNHCR".

Rahaf said she was in transit to seek asylum in Australia, where she claimed to have a visa.

An 18-year-old woman detained in Thailand after fleeing her family in Saudi Arabia and renouncing Islam will not be sent back to the Middle East against her wishes, Thai officials have said.

In a statement posted on the Twitter page of the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok said Alqunun was stopped by authorities in Thailand for "violating the laws" and that the embassy has been in "constant contact" with her family.

"This principle is recognised as customary worldwide law, and is also enshrined in Thailand's other treaty obligations", the UNHCR statement said.

"UNHCR has been following developments closely and immediately sought access from the Thai authorities to meet with Rahaf to assess her need for worldwide protection", Fleming wrote on Twitter.

Earlier on Monday, a Thai court rejected an attempt to block Qunun's deportation saying there was not enough evidence and it was not clear who she is.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press that Thailand should let Alqunun continue her journey to Australia.

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun told BBC Newshour she was now in a hotel in the transit area.

If sent back, she said she would likely be imprisoned, and is "sure 100 percent" her family will kill her, she told AFP.

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On Monday morning, a team from the United Nations arrived and was permitted to interview Alqunun, according to her Twitter account.

Thailand vowed to protect her while she remained in the country.

Another tweet read: 'I'm afraid my family will kill me'.

Rahaf said she had been suffering beatings and emotional abuse from her family members according to media reports.

Noura said she was speaking to Ms Mohammed al-Qunun "every 20 minutes".

"The embassy is only monitoring the situation", al-Shuaibi said.

She used a Canadian tourist's phone to send a message, a video of which was posted to Twitter, saying her family would kill 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.

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun tweeted that her father had arrived, "which anxious and scared me a lot", but said she felt safe "under UNHCR protection with the agreement of Thailand authorities".

"For now, I just called for the immigration and Rahaf herself, and the staff at the hotel" to be questioned, she added.

He added: "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".

On Monday evening, Thai authorities granted the agency access to Al-Qunun 'to assess her need for worldwide refugee protection, ' UNHCR said in a statement. She also faces possible criminal charges in Saudi Arabia, in violation of her basic rights, for "parental disobedience", which can result in punishments ranging from being returned to a guardian's home to imprisonment, and for "harming the reputation of the kingdom" for her public appeals for help.

The UNHCR said that according to the principle of non-refoulement, asylum seekers can not be returned to their country of origin if their life is under threat.

Rahaf was stopped from entering Thailand when she flew in from Kuwait on Sunday, Thailand's immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told AFP.

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