Saudi Teen Safe in Thailand, For Now
BANGKOK The father and brother of a Saudi teenager who was detained in Bangkok after fleeing a family she claims will kill her are, according to police, due to arrive in Thailand imminently, where she is not being deported home as initially feared.
Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Al-Qunun will instead have a chance to make her asylum case to the United Nations refugee agency.
Qunun first gained international attention when she barricaded herself in a hotel at Suvarnabhumi airport after reportedly arriving in Thailand enroute to seek asylum in Australia.
But she has said Saudi officials tried to trick her and surrounded the hotel room she had barricaded herself in, planning to force her back home, where she believes her family would try to kill her.
“Please I need u all. I’m shouting out for help of humanity,” she tweeted.
“I’m not leaving my room until I see UNHCR. I want asylum,” she added in a video uploaded to twitter.
She has also said she had a valid visa to enter Australia – where there is mounting pressure on the government to grant her asylum.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Thailand office said its staff were granted access late on Monday to speak with Al-Qunun, who had refused to board a flight back to Kuwait – where she feared she would be apprehended by Saudi authorities.
“We are very grateful that the Thai authorities did not send back Ms. Al-qunun against her will and are extending protection for her,” UNHCR Thailand country representative Giuseppe de Vicentiis was quoted as saying in a statement released on Tuesday morning.
“It could take several days to process the case and determine the next steps,” he said in the statement.
Thai Immigration Police chief Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn said in a statement that Al-Qunun’s father and brother were due to arrive in Thailand today but that it was her right to decide whether to talk to them or not.
We will not send anyone to die. We will not do that. We will adhere to human rights under the rule of law, he told Associated Press.
He said both countries were treating the issue as a private family matter and looking for a solution together, adding the UNHCR’s processes would take five days.
Activists say Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive countries to women in the world and forbids females from obtaining a passport, traveling abroad or marrying without a male guardian’s permission.
In 2017, another Saudi Arabian woman, Dina Ali Lasloom, who also tried to claim asylum in Australia via Kuwait, was apprehended in the Manila airport and sent back after begging for help through a stranger’s twitter account because she believed her family would kill her.
She has not been heard from since.
A number of female activists who fought for the right to drive have been arrested and disappeared and the country has been condemned across the world over the gruesome murder late last year of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its consulate in Turkey.
The Saudi Arabian embassy in Bangkok has denied it impounded her passport or has the authority to detain her in Thailand, but claimed she was legally required to be deported.
“She does not have a return reservation or a tourist program, which requires deportation by the Thai authorities,” it said.
Al-Qunun’s supporters believe her visa to Australia may have been cancelled as she reportedly found she was unable to log into her Australian government immigration profile.
“We haven’t heard from the Australian government yet about this, but if confirmed that would be quite shameful of the Australian government to cancel her visa knowing the threats that await her in Saudi Arabia,” said Amnesty International’s Middle East campaigns director Samah Hamid.
“Her time in Thailand is uncertain and while it’s positive that she has access to UNHCR and her case is being reviewed, we know that the Thai authorities have kept other individuals and those who’ve sought asylum in reprimand, in detention, waiting for long periods of time to be granted asylum,” she said.
The Australian Government says it is monitoring the case closely.”The claims made by Ms Al-Qunun that she may be harmed if returned to Saudi Arabia are deeply concerning. The Australian Embassy in Thailand has made representations to both the Thai Government and the Bangkok office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to seek assurances that Ms Al-Qunun can access the UNHCR’s refugee status determination process in Thailand,” said a statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
She has also reportedly appealed for asylum from several European countries and Canada.
Source: Voice of America