Sunday 17 February 2019

Saudi teen let stay in Thailand after barricading herself in hotel

Fearful: Rohaf Mohammed Alqunun was expected to meet her father in Thailand after she fled her family, saying she would be killed for renouncing Islam. Photo: AP
Fearful: Rohaf Mohammed Alqunun was expected to meet her father in Thailand after she fled her family, saying she would be killed for renouncing Islam. Photo: AP

Kaweewit Kaewjinda

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family over alleged abuse and barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room in a desperate bid for asylum will be allowed to stay in Thailand while her case is evaluated by the UN refugee agency.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun grabbed global attention when she sent out pleas for help via social media, saying she feared for her life if she was put on a plane back to Kuwait - where she had slipped away from her family - or her homeland.

Instead, she has been allowed to enter Thailand temporarily under the protection of the refugee agency, which was expected to take about five to seven days to study her case and her claim for asylum.

She said she wants to go to Australia to seek refuge there.

"We will not send anyone to die. We will not do that. We will adhere to human rights under the rule of law," said Thai immigration police chief Major General Surachate Hakparn.

Ms Alqunun's plight mirrors that of other Saudi women who in recent years have turned to social media to amplify their calls for help while trying to flee abusive families and other obstacles they face in the kingdom.

Ms Alqunun was seen with Thai and UN officials after she left the airport transit hotel room where she had been holed up over the weekend, sending her pleas for help on her Twitter account. She later tweeted she felt safe under UN protection and had her passport returned.

Her ordeal began when she fled from her family while in Kuwait and boarded a flight to Thailand, taking advantage of being away from Saudi Arabia's restrictions on women who cannot travel abroad without a man's consent.

Ms Alqunun wrote of being in "real danger" if forced to return to her family in Saudi Arabia, and said in media interviews she might be killed.

She told the BBC she had renounced Islam and was fearful of her father's retaliation.

Maj Gen Surachate said Ms Alqunun's father was due to arrive last night, and officials would see if she was willing to meet with him.

"She does not wish to go back and we will not force her. She won't be sent anywhere. She fled hardship. Thailand is a land of smiles," he said.

He noted her tweets mentioned "she does not want Islam", adding "this type of thing, in her country, is a hard crime".

Irish Independent

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