Fleeing Saudi girl allowed temporarily stay in Thailand under UN protection
Story Code : 770896
The 18-year-old, who has identified herself as Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq al-Qunun on an unverified Twitter account, had locked herself inside a hotel room at the Bangkok International Airport as Thai authorities were trying to hand her over to her family while she asked for international help via social media.
She had managed on Saturday to flee from her family while on vacation in Kuwait. She accuses them of subjecting her to physical and psychological abuse.
Qunun was trying to reach Australia to seek asylum there but was stopped by Saudi and Kuwaiti immigration officials during transit at the Bangkok airport. She said her travel documents had been forcibly seized from her on arrest.
She says she will be killed if she is made to return to the kingdom, where women are subjected to anachronistic social restrictions, including under strict “male guardianship” practices.
Immigration officials in Thailand released photos of her after she left her hotel room late on Monday.
Qunun confirmed in a Twitter post that she was under the protection of the UNHCR and that her passport had been returned to her.
But she also said her father had arrived in Bangkok to get her back with him.
The UN agency said its staff was interviewing Qunun on Tuesday, but it “could take several days to process the case and determine next steps.”
“We are very grateful that the Thai authorities did not send back (Qunun) against her will and are extending protection to her,” said the UNHCR’s Thailand representative Giuseppe de Vincentiis.
She has desperately appealed for help from Canada, Australia, the United States, Germany, Sweden, and Britain and other European countries.
According to The Guardian, Qunun had a three-month multiple-entry tourist visa for Australia.
A senator from South Australia, Sarah Hanson-Young, called on the Canberra government to act quickly to issue her emergency travel documents.
Alex Turnbull, the son of Australia’s former prime minister, also called on current Prime Minister Scott Morrison to intervene and prevent her expulsion to Saudi Arabia.
Lawyers in Thailand also filed an injunction with the Bangkok criminal court to prevent her deportation, according to Human Rights Watch’s Asia Deputy Director Phil Robertson.
A close friend of Qunun, who has successfully fled to Australia, told The Guardian that social media supporters “made the difference in Rahaf’s life. You saved Rahaf’s life yesterday: the people, the media.”
Now based in Sydney, Nourah Alharbi, 20, said she had also fled Saudi Arabia after suffering abuse from her family. She is now seeking asylum in Australia.