rahaf al qunun saudi woman blocks bangkok deportation move

Rahaf al-Qunun: Saudi woman blocks Bangkok deportation move

Middle East
Bangkok airportImage copyright Reuters
Image caption Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun said her passport was seized at Bangkok airport

A Saudi woman being held at Bangkok’s main airport has refused to be deported back to her country.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, who says she is trying to flee her family, was set to be deported to Kuwait on Monday.

But she barricaded herself inside a hotel room where she was being held by authorities until the flight had departed.

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun was in Kuwait on holiday with her family when she fled two days ago.

She was trying to head to Australia via a connecting flight in Bangkok.

A photo appeared of her in her room as officials reportedly stood outside, waiting to put her on a flight back to Kuwait.

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun started attracting attention with her social media posts over the weekend.

She says she has an Australian visa but her passport was seized by a Saudi diplomat when he met her coming off the flight at Suvarnabhumi airport.

Saudi officials say she still has her passport but is being detained for not having a return ticket.

Frightened and confused

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun told the BBC that she had renounced Islam, and feared she would be forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia and killed by her family.

The BBC’s Jonathan Head in Bangkok says Ms Mohammed al-Qunun is frightened and confused.

Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said in a statement: “Saudi women fleeing their families can face severe violence from relatives, deprivation of liberty, and other serious harm if returned against their will.”

The Saudi embassy in Bangkok said she has been held at the airport “because she didn’t have a return ticket” and that she is set to be deported to Kuwait on Monday “where most of her family lives”.

Saudi authorities do not have the authority to hold her at the airport or anywhere else, the statement said.

Officials are now in touch with her father, it added.

‘Family problem’

Thai police Major General Surachate Hakparn told the BBC that Ms Mohammed al-Qunun was escaping a marriage.

Because she did not have a visa to enter Thailand, he said, police had denied her entry and were in the process of repatriating her through the same airline she had taken – Kuwait Airways – by Monday morning.

Gen Surachate said he was unaware of any passport seizure.

He told AFP the case was a “family problem” and the teenager “had no further documents such as [a] return ticket or money”.

However, Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director Phil Robertson told the BBC: “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 argued that the Thai authorities had clearly co-operated with Saudi Arabia as Saudi officials were able to meet the plane when it arrived.

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun told BBC Newshour she was in a hotel in the transit area.

She said: “I shared my story and my pictures on social media and my father is so angry because I did this… I can’t study and work in my country, so I want to be free and study and work as I want.”

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun wrote on Twitter that she had decided to share her name and details because she had “nothing to lose” now.

She has asked for asylum from governments around the world.

The case echoes that of another Saudi woman who was in transit to Australia in April 2017.

Dina Ali Lasloom, 24, was en route from Kuwait via the Philippines but was taken back to Saudi Arabia from Manila airport by her family.

She used a Canadian tourist’s phone to send a message, a video of which was posted to Twitter, saying her family would kill her.

Her fate on arriving back in Saudi Arabia remains unknown.