Saudi woman fights Thai deportation, says life at risk in Kuwait

Tuesday, 08 Jan, 2019

Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Alqunun told AFP she was stopped by Saudi and Kuwaiti officials when she arrived in Suvarnabhumi airport and her travel document was forcibly taken from her, a claim backed by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, was on holiday with her family in Kuwait when she fled to Bangkok, hoping to make it onward to Australia to seek asylum.

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun says she was intercepted by Saudi officials trying to head to Australia via a connecting flight in Bangkok.

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. He said the UNHCR would take at least five to seven days to evaluate her case.

Despite having a ticket onwards to Australia, a tourist visa would not necessarily "enliven Australia's protection obligations" toward Ms Alqunun, said Professor Jane McAdam from the University of New South Wales' Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law.

Colonel Choengron Rimphadee, Thailand's immigration department's deputy spokesman, said she had been denied entry because she could not show a return ticket, hotel reservation or proof of funds, adding: "Whoever violates Thai immigration law will be considered a prohibited person and treated the same".

That tweet has already been retweeted and shared thousands of times, with her pleas for asylum having brought worldwide attention to the hardships facing millions of women in Saudi Arabia. Dina Ali Lasloom, 24, was en route from Kuwait via the Philippines but was taken back to Saudi Arabia from Manila airport by her family. "We will not send anyone to die", he added. "We will meet you and kidnap you then we will deal with you", she wrote.

"What is truly appalling is how the Saudi Arabian government has acted in sending an official to physically seize her passport from her in Bangkok airport worldwide transit", he said.

"She is 18 years old, she has an Australian visa, and she has the right to travel where she wishes and no government should interfere in that".

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun said she had renounced Islam, and feared her family would kill her if she was sent back to Saudi Arabia.

"What is truly appalling is how the Saudi Arabian government has acted in sending an official to physically seize her passport from her in Bangkok airport global transit", he said.

Women have few civil rights in the ultra-conservative Saudi kingdom.

She tweeted Monday that a friend would carry on posting to her account if she was taken away or denied access to it.

"UNHCR consistently advocates that refugees and asylum seekers - having been confirmed or claimed to be in need of worldwide protection - can not be returned to their countries of origin".

Thai Major General Surachate Hakparn said the teenager had indicated that she remains unwilling to go back home. She was allowed to stay in Thailand for five days while the United Nations was considering her asylum request, said immigration chief Surachate.

Under these laws, a woman must have her male guardian's permission in order to obtain a passport, travel overseas or marry.

Human Rights Watch Asia says the Thai government has manufactured a story in which her lack of a visa for Thailand has had her detained and facing deportation, yet as she had an onward flight she never wanted to enter Thailand.

While Saudi Arabia has some regulations to combat domestic violence, guardianship makes it extremely hard for victims of violence to seek protection or obtain legal redress for abuse.

Robertson, who's been in contact with Qunun, told Euronews over the phone that she is "scared to death, is barricaded in her hotel, and wants the UNHCR to come see her".

She was reportedly held at the airport at the request of Saudi officials who want to stop her from fleeing to Australia.

While recounting one of the barbaric assault she went through, she said she was once locked in a room for six months for cutting her hair.

"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 ignored", Robertson told AFP.

"It is a very distressing position she is in", Senator Wong said.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Busadee Santipitaks said the ministry had no advance notice of plans to turn back al-Qunun.