Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Alqunun, the 18-year-old Saudi national currently being held at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport, has avoided an initial attempt by Thai Immigration officials to forcibly send her to Kuwait this morning.
Less than an hour ago, someone identifying themselves as Alqunun’s friend — who took over her Twitter account while Alqunun was allegedly being forcibly taken to Kuwaiti Airlines flight KU412 — announced that the plane had taken off without her.
“Rahaf is save [sic] for now,” they wrote in a Tweet that has since been deleted.
A few minutes ago, the same friend posted another video of Alqunun speaking from her hotel. Though she spoke in Arabic, a Twitter user was quick to translate Alqunun’s message.
Rahaf just send me this, she just want you to make sure she is on the hotel and she still needs help and protection. pic.twitter.com/xxs61JIfhP
— Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد القنون (@rahaf84427714) January 7, 2019
“She said the plane departed and she’s still at the hotel. She also said she needs a countries protection,” wrote Twitter user @DaNKmeliodas.
Meanwhile, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) issued a statement saying they had been following developments closely and were trying to gain access from Thai authorities in order to determine Alqunun’s need for international protection.
“UNHCR consistently advocates that refugees and asylum seekers – having been confirmed or claimed to be in need of international protection – cannot be returned to their countries of origin according to the principle of non-refoulement, which prevents states from expelling or returning persons to a territory where their life or freedom would be threatened.”
“This principle is recognized as customary international law, and is also enshrined in Thailand’s other treaty obligations.”
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 had her travel document 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.
She said she fears death if she is deported.
“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.”