'We Will Not Send Anyone To Their Death': Thai Officials Won't Deport Saudi Teen Seeking Asylum
Thai officials have announced they will not send a young Saudi woman who is seeking asylum in Australia back to Saudi Arabia.
Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Alqunun, 18, flew from Kuwait on a ticket she had to Australia. She also reportedly had a visa to enter Australia.
But when she arrived in Bangkok, she was met by a Saudi diplomat who forcibly confiscated her passport.
She claimed she fled Saudi Arabia amid fears her family would kill her for renouncing Islam. Alqunun also explained via Twitter she is fleeing both physical and psychological abuse in Saudi Arabia.
By travelling alone and asserting her independence, she has violated the Saudi 'guardianship' system where by a woman is forbidden from travelling without a male -- be that a father, husband, uncle, brother or son.
It's for these reasons she believes her life would be in danger if she was to return to her home country.
Alqunun was being held in an airport hotel room after she was detained. To avoid being deported on a Kuwait Airlines flight destined for Saudi Arabia, she barricaded herself inside the room and demanded to speak to the United Nations Refugee Agency.
The flight left Bangkok without her.
" I'm not going to open the door," she tweeted.
"I want UN."
Officials from UNHCR were able to interview the teenager. They reportedly gave her assurances that she would not be sent back to Saudi Arabia.
The 18-year-old has since left the hotel room, has regained possession of her passport and is now in the custody of Thai immigration officials. They have confirmed Alqunun is able to stay in Thailand, for now.
"We will talk to her and do whatever she requests. Since she escaped trouble to seek our help, we are the Land of Smiles, we will not send anyone to their death," Thailand's Immigration Police Chief, Surachet Hakpal, said at a news conference on Monday.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said on Monday that the Australian government should step in and help the young woman.
“Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun fears for her life and is facing deportation to Saudi Arabia, but we can help. We understand she has a visa and needs emergency travel documents to be brought safely here,” she said in a statement.
“Time is of the essence. Rahaf could be sent back to Saudi Arabia within hours without our intervention. The Liberal Government must act swiftly and bring her here to safety.”
The Saudi embassy in Thailand released a statement via Twitter on Monday, outlining the government's version of events. It claimed the woman did not "have a return reservation or a tourist program, which requires deportation by the Thai officials."
"She will be deported back to the State of Kuwait where her family live."
"Her passport was not impounded by the Saudi Embassy."
But Alqunun claims the assertion her family lives in Kuwait is a lie.
"Saudi news said I was living in Kuwait, but that’s wrong I live in Saudi Arabia and this is the proof," she tweeted.
"My Saudi university card (Ha’il university)."
Featured Image: Reuters/ Twitter- Sophie McNeill.
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