rahaf al qunun saudi woman pleads for asylum

Rahaf al-Qunun: Saudi woman pleads for asylum

Middle East
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun talks to Thai Immigration Police Chief Surachet Hakparn at the Suvarnabhumi international airport near BangkokImage copyright EPA/THAI IMMIGRATION BUREAU
Image caption Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, pictured at Bangkok airport, says she “wants to be free” away from Saudi Arabia

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family at the weekend has reiterated her plea for asylum in Canada, the United States, Australia or the UK.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun refused to board a flight from Bangkok to Kuwait on Monday and barricaded herself into her airport hotel room.

She said she feared her family would kill her as she had renounced Islam and is under the care of the UN in Bangkok.

Renunciation, known as apostasy, is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.

Thai immigration officials had said that she should return to Kuwait, where her family is.

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun captured the attention of social media users around the world by live tweeting every twist and turn to her case. Her brand new Twitter account attracted 50,000 followers in a day and a half.

On Tuesday morning she retweeted her original plea for asylum, adding in a subsequent tweet: “I want Canada to give me asylum.”

The Australian government said it was “pleased” the UN refugee agency was assessing her claim.

“Any application by Ms al-Qunun for a humanitarian visa will be carefully considered once the UNHCR process has concluded,” a Department of Home Affairs official told AFP.

The agency has said it is “very grateful” that officials in Thailand did not deport her but her asylum claim would take “several days” to assess.

Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Thailand has denied that its government had requested her extradition, reports the Reuters news agency.

“My life is in danger. My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things,” Ms Mohammed al-Qunun earlier told Reuters.

Her relatives have not commented on her claims.

Rights groups including Human Rights Watch have expressed grave concerns for Ms Mohammed al-Qunun, who had travelled to Thailand for a connecting flight to Australia, where she hoped to seek asylum.

On Monday evening local time, Thailand’s chief of immigration police Surachate Hakparn said the country would “take care of her as best we can”, adding: “She is now under the sovereignty of Thailand; no-one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere.

“Thailand is a land of smiles. We will not send anyone to die.”

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Thailand’s chief of immigration police Surachate Hakparn said Thailand would not deport the young woman to her possible death

Mr Surachate said he would meet Saudi diplomats to clarify Thailand’s decision.

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun tweeted that her father had arrived, “which worried and scared me a lot”, but said she felt safe “under UNHCR protection with the agreement of Thailand authorities”.

Thailand’s immigration chief told Reuters news agency that any meeting between them would have to be approved by the UN.

Thailand is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and provides no legal protection to asylum seekers, although there are more than 100,000 refugees in the country.

An injunction filed by Thai lawyers in Bangkok criminal court to stop the deportation was dismissed earlier on Monday.