18-year-old Saudi woman held at Bangkok Airport fears death if forcibly deported

Photo: Twitter/ Rahaf Mohammed and Flickr/ Dennis Wong

An 18-year-old Saudi national currently held at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport said she fears death if she is deported by Thai immigration officials, who yesterday denied her entry to the country.

“I’m not leaving my room until I see UNHCR [the UN Refugee Agency]. I want asylum,” Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Alqunun said in a Twitter video shot from her airport hotel room and post about about an hour ago.

At the time of publishing, her Twitter account had been taken over by someone identifying themselves as her friend, who said she was being forcibly taken to a Kuwaiti Airlines flight.

Alqunun was on route to seek asylum in Australia — where she claims she has a visa — but was stopped by Saudi and Kuwaiti officials when she arrived at Suvarnabhumi yesterday afternoon and her travel document was forcibly taken from her — a claim backed by Human Rights Watch.

“They took my passport,” she told reporters adding that her male guardian had reported her for traveling “without his permission.” While not a written law in Saudi Arabia, the concept of all women officially having a “wali,” or male guardian, is widely accepted and broadly enforced.

Alqunun said she was trying to flee her family, who subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

“My family is strict and locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair,” she said, adding that she is certain she will be imprisoned if she is sent back.

“I’m sure 100 percent they will kill me as soon as I get out of the Saudi jail,” she said. Alqunun who had recently renounced Islam, adding that she was “scared” and “losing hope.” In a tweet posted at around 8AM, Alqunun said a cousin had threatened to kill her.

Immigration chief Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn told the BBC that Alqunun was escaping an arranged marriage and did not have a visa to enter Thailand, which is a violation of the kingdom’s laws.

He added that this was a “family problem” and the teenager “had no further documents such as [a] return ticket or money”.

However, Human Rights Watch’s Robertson suspect the Thai government of fabricating a story.

“It seems that the Thai government is manufacturing a story that she tried to apply for a visa and it was denied… in fact, she had an onward ticket to go to Australia, she didn’t want to enter Thailand in the first place,” he said.

Both the Immigration Bureau and Investigative division of Suvarnabhumi airport refused Coconuts Bangkok’s request for a comment.

Historically, threats of harsh punishments awaiting deported refugees has held little sway with Thai immigration officials.

Just last month, Hakeem Alaraib, a former Bahrain national footballer with Australian refugee status, was put in detention in Thailand as he awaits possible extradition — as campaigners say they fear he could be “tortured” if returned to the Gulf state.

Back in 2015, the kingdom sent about 100 ethnic Uighurs back to China — the country they fled from — despite international warnings that the Uighurs could face harsh treatment in China and pleas that they be allowed to resettle elsewhere, reported the New York Times.

In regards to the Uighur’s forced deportation, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha was quoted by Reuters as saying, “If we send them back and there is a problem, that is not our fault.”

Thailand’s actions at the time were heavily condemned by international Human rights organizations.

Nicholas Bequelin, the East Asia director for Amnesty International, said that “deporting these people is a despicable act, and illegal under international law,” and added, “If the Thai authorities go ahead with any further deportations, they will be putting the lives of many at risk.”

Meanwhile, Alqunun has received overwhelming social media support from netizens and human rights organizations.

A change.org petition has been created to support Alqunun’s plea for asylum. The petition, created in the past 24 hours, has received 4,111 backers as of press time.

Additional reporting by AFP.

CORRECTION:Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Alqunun was attempting to reach Australia. An earlier version of this story mistyped her intended destination as Austria. 


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