Saudi woman who feared for her life saved from deportation after barricading herself in hotel room and tweeting for help

18-year-old says she is fleeing abusive family and fears for her safety

Richard Hall
Monday 07 January 2019 10:09 GMT
Saudi woman seeking asylum barricades herself inside Thai hotel room

A Saudi teenager who fears her family is trying to kill her fought off a deportation attempt in Bangkok by barricading herself in a hotel room and calling for help on social media.

Eighteen-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun was detained by Thai immigration officials on Saturday while she was on her way to Australia to claim asylum.

She was due to be sent back on a flight on Monday, but she instead blocked the doors of her room and took to Twitter to appeal to the United Nations and human rights organisations to prevent her being sent back.

“I’m calling for all people inside the transit area in Bangkok to protest against deporting me to Kuwait,” she wrote on Twitter. “Please I need u all. I’m shouting out for help of humanity.”

Following a flurry of attention and demands from rights groups that her deportation be halted, Thailand's immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said Ms Qunun would be allowed temporary entry to the country for the UN to evaluate her case.

"We and UNHCR will talk to her and ask her what her wishes are, whether she wants to request asylum," he told a news conference.

The United Nations' refugee agency said it has been in contact with Ms Qunun in order to asses her "need for international refugee protection and find an immediate solution for her situation". Images later emerged of her being led from the airport with UN staff.

The incident comes at a time when Saudi Arabia is under increased scrutiny over its rights record in the wake of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the use of rendition against activists to silence opposition. Women in Saudi Arabia are forbidden from travelling without the permission of a male guardian. Ms Qunun was only able to travel on her own because she had been in Kuwait, which doesn't have the same law.

Ms Qunun said she was fleeing her abusive family, and regularly suffers beatings and death threats from her brothers.

“My brothers and family and the Saudi embassy will be waiting for me in Kuwait,” Ms Qunun told Reuters on Sunday. “They will kill me. My life is in danger. My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things.”

She added that she had been imprisoned for months inside her house, and suffered "physical, emotional and verbal abuse."

Rights groups had called for Thai authorities to remove the threat of deportation and allow her to apply for asylum.

“Thai authorities should immediately halt any deportation, and either allow her to continue her travel to Australia or permit her to remain in Thailand to seek protection as a refugee,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“Saudi women fleeing their families can face severe violence from relatives, deprivation of liberty, and other serious harm if returned against their will,” he said.

Thai immigration authorities said Ms Qunun was refused entry because she did not have the proper documents.

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