In Brief

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun: why Saudi teenager barricaded herself in Thai hotel

The 18-year-old says she is seeking asylum in Australia after renouncing Islam and ‘will be killed’ if sent home

A Saudi woman who barricaded herself in an airport hotel room in Thailand and pleaded for help on social media has been told she will not be deported to her home country.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, fled her family while they were visiting Kuwait and planned to seek asylum in Australia, the BBC reports. However, she says she was stopped yesterday during a stopover at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport and told by Thai authorities she would be put on a flight back to Kuwait on Monday morning.  

Thailand’s immigration chief, Surachate Hakparn, confirmed to Paris-based news agency AFP that al-Qunun had been denied entry after flying in on Sunday. “She had no further documents such as return ticket or money,” he said.

But when officials went to retrieve her from a transit zone hotel earlier today, she barricaded herself in her room and refused them entry. Officials subsequently announced that she had missed her deportation flight.

The teenager also posted a series of videos on Twitter claiming that if she is returned to her home country, her family will kill her.

Al-Qunun added that her cousin had already threatened to “slaughter” her.

She repeatedly stated that she “wants UN” intervention, referring to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which deals with refugee and asylum cases for the international body.

Al-Qunun told the BBC that she had renounced Islam.

In texts and phone messages to Reuters, she said: “My brothers and family and the Saudi embassy will be waiting for me in Kuwait. They will kill me. My life is in danger. My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things.” 

Human rights campaign groups and foreign authorities have voiced worries about al-Qunun’s welfare, The Daily Telegraph reports.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Asia, accused the Thai authorities of a “heartless lack of concern” for the teenager and of “stonewalling” the UNHCR over her asylum claim.

Georg Schmidt, the German ambassador in Bangkok, also expressed “grave concern” about her plight. 

Meanwhile, The Guardian says that a 20-year-old friend of al-Qunun has backed up her claims. The unnamed woman, who reportedly moved from Saudi Arabia to Australia recently, told the newspaper: “She’s ex-Muslim and has a very strict family, they’re using violence with her and she faced sexual harassment. She received a threat from her cousin – he said he wants to see her blood, he wants to kill her.”

Early this morning, ABC reporter Sophie McNeill tweeted that UN representatives had arrived and had given their word that she would be safe and would remain in their custody.

Immigration chief Hakparn later said: “She is now under the sovereignty of Thailand, no one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere. We will talk to her and do whatever she requests. Since she escaped trouble to seek our help... we will not send anyone to their death.”

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