Thailand today reversed plans to expel an 18-year-old Saudi woman stranded at Bangkok airport after fleeing her family from Kuwait due to concerns over her safety, the immigration chief said.
Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun, 18, has been stranded at Bangkok airport since Saturday when she was denied entry by Thai immigration officials.
Today she barricaded herself inside an airport transit hotel to avoid being escorted to board a Kuwait Airways flight scheduled for that morning.
“The flight this morning was via Kuwait Airlines to send her back to Saudi Arabia,” chief of immigration police Surachate Hakparn told reporters.
He also told reporters he would meet UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, later in the day to discuss her asylum plans.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry denied her allegations that its embassy had confiscated her passport, saying in a Tweet she was stopped at the airport for violating Thai immigration laws.
Al-Qunun posted a video on Twitter today of her barricading her hotel door with a table and a mattress.
I wil still here until UN helps me https://t.co/HUFiSodcFC
— Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد القنون (@rahaf84427714) January 7, 2019
She told Reuters she fled Kuwait while her family was visiting the Gulf country and had planned to travel from Thailand to Australia to seek asylum. She said she was detained after leaving her plane in Bangkok and told she would be sent back to Kuwait.
“My brothers and family and the Saudi embassy will be waiting for me in Kuwait,” Al-Qunun said by text and voice message from the hotel yesterday.
“They will kill me,” she said. “My life is in danger. My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things.”
Asked why she was seeking refuge in Australia, she said: “Physical, emotional and verbal abuse and being imprisoned inside the house for months. They threaten to kill me and prevent me from continuing my education.
“They won’t let me drive or travel. I am oppressed. I love life and work and I am very ambitious but my family is preventing me from living.”
Her family could not immediately be reached for comment. In her initial social media pleas, Al-Qunun said her family was powerful in Saudi society but she did not identify them.
Thai immigration authorities said Al-Qunun was refused entry because she did not have the proper documents.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Bangkok said it was trying to meet Al-Qunun.
“UNHCR consistently advocates that refugees and asylum seekers … 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,” it said in a statement.
Al-Qunun said she had obtained an Australian visa and booked a flight. She said she had planned to spend a few days in Thailand so she would not spark suspicion when she left Kuwait.
“When I landed at the airport, someone came and said he would process the [Thai] visa but he took my passport. He came back with what seemed to be airport security and said that my parents objected and said I must return to Saudi Arabia via Kuwait Airways,” she said.
She said she believed she was stopped after her family appealed to Kuwait Airways. A spokesman for Kuwait Airways said he had no information about the case.
Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said Al-Qunun was denied entry because she did not have a paid return ticket or hotel reservation.
“She was over-exaggerating… She fled her family from Saudi Arabia and arrived in Thailand but she didn’t have necessary documents to enter. Thai immigration had to deny her entry,” he said, describing such action as standard procedure.