A Saudi woman is being held at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand after trying to escape her family in Saudi Arabia.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, said she renounced her religion, Islam, and now fears for her life if repatriated as planned early on Jan. 7.
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 (@rahaf84427714) January 7, 2019
According to reports, Rahaf has been held in the airport since 4 a.m. GMT on Jan. 6. She is due to board GMT Kuwait Airways flight 412 from Bangkok to Kuwait at 4:15 a.m. on Jan. 7 (11:15 a.m. local time).
According to a series of live videos and messages that Rahaf posted to Twitter, she had planned to travel to Australia to apply for asylum.
Video from @rahaf84427714 just sent from her hotel room at the #Bangkok airport. She has barricaded herself in the room & says she will not leave until she is able to see #UNHCR. Why is #Thailand not letting @Refugees see her for refugee status determination? @hrw #SaveRahaf pic.twitter.com/3lb2NDRsVG
— Phil Robertson (@Reaproy) January 7, 2019
Rahaf told AFP news agency that after she landed in Bangkok, her passport was confiscated at the airport by Saudi and Kuwaiti officials.
Her father had reported her for traveling without a male guardian. According to The Daily Mail, her father had told an airport employee official via messaging app Whatsapp that she was mentally ill but did not provide evidence when asked.
She lives with her parents and six siblings in Ha’il, Saudi Arabia, where her father is a government official according to the Daily Mail.
Rahaf said she had been suffering beatings and emotional abuse from her family members according to media reports. When she and her family traveled to visit her family in Kuwait, Rahaf seized the opportunity to flee with help from a friend by booking flights from Kuwait to Thailand, then Thailand to Australia. She took a taxi to the airport in Kuwait around 4 a.m. local time after making sure her father was asleep.
I seek protection in particular from the following country
Canada/United States/ Australia /United kingdom, I ask any if it Representatives to contact me.
— Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد (@rahaf84427714) January 6, 2019
Rahaf is being held in an airport hotel guarded by security officials. She told The Daily Mail, “When I came to Thailand someone told me that he will help me to get a visa for Thailand in the airport. After that he took my passport. After one hour he came back with five or six people, I think they were police or something and then they told me my father is so angry and I must go back to Saudi Arabia. They know I ran away from him.”
“I am scared. My brother told me that he’s waiting with some Saudi men. They will take me to Saudi Arabia and my father will kill me because he is so angry. He will kill me. My family do this, I know them. They kept telling me they will kill me if I do something wrong—they say that since I was a child.”
Rahaf had requested her passport back so she could fly to another country.
“They [the airport officials] kept telling me I can’t get a visa. The airline told me I have to stay here, so I can go back to Kuwait. From Kuwait they [my family] will take me to Saudi Arabia.
“They [my family] will kill me. I am so scared. I don’t know what I will do. I have to fight, because I don’t want to lose my life,” she told The Daily Mail.
She told BBC Newshour: “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.”
She also told BBC Newshour she has renounced Islam. Renouncing Islam in Saudi Arabia is considered a crime that is punishable by death.
Translation of tweets from the #Saudi woman trying to flee into asylum who said she is being held at #Bangkok airport: “I am the girl who escaped #Kuwait to #Thailand. My life is in real danger if I am forced to return to #Saudi Arabia.” https://t.co/6DLk4WSpKX
— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) January 5, 2019
Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director Phil Robertson warns Rahaf is at serious risk of “honor violence.”
“As far as we can tell, her father is a prominent government official, I expect he’s going to be very, very harsh,” Robertson told The Daily Mail. “Certainly he’s senior enough to do whatever he wants to his daughter and nobody is going to raise a finger against him. There’s a long history of what they call ‘honour violence.’ I think she’s at serious risk. We’ve been pressing the UN to get in there. They need to go to the airport.”
#UNHCR needs urgently demand access to Rahaf al-Qunun, the Saudi woman facing "honor-related" violence if she is forced back to #SaudiArabia. She's asking now for asylum, why can't UNHCR get out to the airport and demand #Thailand let them see her? There's no time to waste! pic.twitter.com/ECFn1nrfcO
— Phil Robertson (@Reaproy) January 6, 2019
According to AFP, Thailand’s immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said Rahad had fled her family to avoid marriage and is “concerned she may be in trouble [after] returning to Saudi Arabia.”
“She had no further documents such as return ticket or money,” Hakparn said, adding Thai authorities had already contacted the “Saudi Arabia embassy to coordinate.”
Meanwhile, Thai Police Major General Surachate Hakparn told the BBC Rahaf was denied entry and is being deported via the same airlines she had taken to arrive into the country, Kuwait Airlines, because she did not have a visa to enter Thailand.
Rahaf said she had a visa to go to Australia and was planning to travel via Thailand to Australia. It is unclear why Rahaf would need a Thai visa or why she would need to be deported on such grounds.
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.”
#Thailand is manufacturing fake stories about #Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun @rahaf84427714 "applying for a #Thai visa" & being denied. She was transiting #Bangkok on her way to Australia and never intended to enter Thailand. This looks like Thai & #SaudiArabia playing games to me. pic.twitter.com/roP4SbzK94
— Phil Robertson (@Reaproy) January 6, 2019
On Twitter, the hashtag #SaveRahaf is being used to publicize and follow her case.
A spokeswoman for the United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, told MailOnline “For reasons of confidentiality and protection, we are not in a position to comment on the details (or even confirm or deny the existence) of individual cases.”
“However, 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.”