Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun Thailand: “They won’t let me drive or travel”.
Thai officials today halted plans to deport a Saudi teenager who says she is fleeing her “abusive” family as she barricaded herself inside a hotel room to stop being sent home.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, has been stranded at an airport hotel in Bangkok since Saturday after she was denied entry by Thai officials on her way to Australia, where she is seeking asylum.
The teenager, who arrived into the country on a flight from Kuwait, claims she is fleeing beating and death threats from male relatives and fears she will be killed if she is forced to return.
Today, Thailand’s immigration police chief assured the teenager that she would not be sent anywhere against her wishes. It came after a judge turned down a last-minute appeal from Thai lawyers to prevent her deportation, claiming there was not enough information about who she was.
Speaking at a press conference, Major General Surachate Hakparn said Ms Alqunun, who has been appealing for help over social media, would be allowed to meet UN refugee officials.
He added that he would also meet with UNHCR – the United Nations refugee agency – today to discuss Ms Alqunun’s asylum plans. Thai authorities would then need to explain to Saudi authorities why she is not being sent back to the country, if that decision is made, he added.
The move came as the teenager, who has accumulated tens of thousands of followers since Saturday, tweeted a video which showed her barricading her hotel door with a table and a mattress to avoid being escorted to board a Kuwait Airways flight.
She had appealed for help over Twitter from the UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, who had said it was “trying to seek access from Thai authorities” to meet with her. She said in the video: “I’m not leaving my room until I see UNHCR. I want asylum.”
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said: “The key thing is she should not be sent back to Saudi Arabia, she should not be sent back into harm’s way.” Officials later confirmed that her planned forced departure had been averted and the flight had left without her.
Ms Alqunun’s ordeal began on Saturday when she was stopped by officials at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport. The teenager later claimed she was tricked into giving up her passport and moved to a hotel airport.
Thai officials deny she was detained at the behest of the Saudi government. 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.”
Saudi Arabia’s charge d’affaires in Bangkok also denied Saudi authorities were involved.
Later, Germany’s ambassador to Thailand, Georg Schmidt, posted a message of concern about her case, which he said he was conveying to Thai authorities.
Ms Alqunun’s plight mirrors that of other Saudi women who have tried to flee abusive or restrictive family conditions.
Under Saudi Arabia’s restrictive male guardianship system, adult women must obtain permission from a male guardian, usually a family member, to travel abroad, marry, or be released from prison.
In 2017 Dina Lasloom hit the headlines when she was stopped en route to Australia where she planned to seek asylum.
She was forced to return to Saudi Arabia and was not publicly heard from again, according to activists tracking her whereabouts.