Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun waits in Thailand on asylum bid

Geraldine Edwards
January 10, 2019

"This should be the standard for any individual who claims that his or her life is in danger".

Alqunun has said she was tricked into giving up her passport upon arrival in Bangkok by a man she has variously identified as a Kuwait Airways employee or a Saudi Embassy official. We also send out a Weekly K+R Update, bundling together all the kidnap, ransom and extortion news of the week in one easy to read newsletter.

Her plight has gained media coverage around the world following a similar case past year, where young Saudi woman Dina Ali Lasloom was forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia after being detained at Manila Airport.

On Monday, police chief Mr Surachate said the Thais had been tipped off by Saudi officials, adding: "The Saudi Arabia embassy contacted the immigration police. and said that the girl had run away from her parents and they feared for her safety". She said she had been beaten and male relatives had threatened to kill her.

Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has some of the world's toughest restrictions on women, including a guardianship system that allows male family members to make decisions on behalf of female relatives. Does she still hold concerns about her situation there in Thailand?

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun in her hotel room.

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Late on Sunday, Human Rights Watch issued a statement urging local authorities to "immediately halt the planned deportation" of the young woman.

The teenager was in Kuwait on holiday with her family when she fled two days ago, the BBC reported.

The ABC reports the UNHCR has been given assurances the teen would not be sent back to Saudi Arabia.

Alqunun is barricaded in an airport hotel room and has been pleading to talk to the United Nations officials.

"We are very grateful that the Thai authorities did not send back Ms. Alqunun against her will and are extending protection for her", said Giuseppe de Vicentiis, UNHCR's representative in Thailand said on Tuesday.

Qanun has said she believes she will be imprisoned or killed if sent back, and that her family is so strict it once locked her in a room for six months for cutting her hair.

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Human Rights Watch earlier called on the Australian government to allow Alqunun's entry into that country, amid worries about her visa status.

The Saudi foreign ministry said in a tweet that its embassy was in touch with the woman's father and the Thai government, but its diplomats had not met or communicated with her.

Qunun had earlier posted a video on Twitter of her barricading her hotel room door with furniture in a bid to stop her deportation from Thailand.

In another development, Ms Mohammed al-Qunun said her passport had been returned. If the UNHCR declared her a refugee, Alqunun said she would like to be granted a humanitarian visa in Australia, Britain or Canada.

"UNHCR consistently advocates that refugees and asylum seekers-having been confirmed or claimed to be in need of global protection-cannot be returned to their countries of origin according to the principle of non-refoulement", she wrote on Twitter.

Al-Qunun said that she had renounced Islam, and she was afraid about what her family, and the Saudi government, would do to her. Once there, she got on a plane to Thailand, hoping to travel from there to Australia. She alleged that she was being subjected to physical and psychological abuse by her family.

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"She's desperately fearful of her family, including her father who is a senior government official, and given Saudi Arabia's long track record of looking the other way in so-called honor violence incidents, her worry that she could be killed if returned cannot be discounted".

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