A Saudi Arabian Teenager 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.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun has been at Bangkok’s international airport since Saturday when she arrived from Kuwait. She has said she fears she will be killed if she is returned to her family.
She had earlier renounced Islam and is reported to say that she will be killed as a result of this action. Her case has brought international attention to the obstacles women face in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi culture and guardianship policy require women to have permission from a male relative to work, travel, marry, and even get some medical treatment. The deeply conservative Muslim country lifted a ban on women drivers last year.
A representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) met Qunun at the airport and was to discuss the case with Thai immigration officials.
“We and UNHCR will talk to her and ask her what her wishes are, whether she wants to request asylum,” immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told a news conference.
He said Thai officials were following the law in initially refusing her entry, but added, “if she is to be hurt or punished or killed, we will need to take into consideration human rights principles”.
Surachate also acknowledged for the first time the Saudi embassy had alerted Thai authorities to Qunun’s arrival. Her family, which could not be reached for comment on her accusations of abuse.
Qunun, who has a three-month tourist visa for Australia, said in a video posted on social media from inside the airport that she was trying to escape from her family because they subjected her to physical and psychological abuse. She has appealed for help from Europe, the US, Canada and Australia.
However, the Saudi embassy had a different version of events “The Saudi Arabia embassy contacted the immigration police … and said that the girl had run away from her parents and they fear for her safety,” he said.
“We acknowledged this and checked her paperwork. She had a passport but no return ticket, no travel plan, and no destination or hotel reservation in Thailand … so per airport security procedures, immigration denied her entry.”
Qunun had posted a video on Twitter of herself in a hotel room. Barricading the hotel door with a table and a mattress.
She has gone to great lengths to get her story told, to the extent that she text Reuters via text messages that she had fled Kuwait while her family was visiting the Gulf country and had planned to travel from Thailand to Australia to seek asylum. She said she was detained after leaving her plane in Bangkok and told she would be sent back to Kuwait.
“They will kill me,” Qunan told Reuters. “My life is in danger. My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things.” Appealing to the support of the European community.
Qunun said she had obtained an Australian visa and booked a flight. She said she had planned to spend a few days in Thailand so she would not spark suspicion when she left Kuwait.
Surachate, however, said that Qunun did not have a visa for Australia. The Australian Embassy said it had no immediate comment.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry also denied her allegations that its embassy had confiscated her passport.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said Thailand should not send Qunun back to her family because she says she faces danger.
Thailand vowed to protect her while she remained in the country. As well as Global Human Right groups that have rushed to assist Qunun following her pleas on social media.
“She is under Thailand’s sovereignty now. No one, no embassy can force her to go anywhere,” Surachate said. “We will protect her as best as we can.”