Thai immigration authorities denied late Sunday that they had detained a Saudi teenager who arrived earlier in the day on a flight from Kuwait and who claimed her life was in peril if she were forced to return home.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, was booked to depart on a Kuwait Airways flight bound from Bangkok to Kuwait City late on Monday morning, the chief of immigration police told BenarNews, while late on Sunday, New York-based Human Rights Watch implored Thailand “to immediately halt” its “planned deportation” of al-Qunun.
The 18-year-old told BenarNews that Saudi Arabian embassy officials had pulled her aside, confiscated her passport, and confined her to a hotel room inside Bangkok’s main international airport after she disembarked from the flight from Kuwait.
She said she was in transit to Australia while trying to flee from what she described as her abusive Saudi family.
“My family will kill me,” the 18-year-old told Benar during a brief interview done by telephone and text messages via WhatsApp. “My father is very angry because I ran away from them. I ran away because they treated me badly.
“I just want to travel to Australia, I have a visa,” she said. “They will take me back to Kuwait and then Saudi Arabia tomorrow.”
According to Lt. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, the chief of Thailand’s immigration bureau, al-Qunun did not have proper travel papers for entry into Thai territory.
“Nobody detained her. Saudi Arabian officials took care of her at the hotel until now. Thai immigration officials also assisted her earlier,” Surachate told BenarNews by phone on Sunday evening (local time). “It’s a family matter. She just felt upset with her family.”
“She escaped her parents and was to enter Thailand but she can’t because she doesn’t have all documents,” Surachate said. “So we escorted her to the transit area and she booked her flight back to Kuwait using her money.”
However, the 18-year-old and Phil Robertson, a regional representative for Human Rights Watch, claimed she didn’t need a visa for Thailand because she was only passing through Suvarnabhumi Airport on her way to Australia, where, Robertson said, al-Qunun intended to get asylum.
‘Abusive influence of Saudi authorities abroad’
After being allegedly escorted to a room at the airport’s Miracle Transit Hotel – which is not accessible to the general public – the 18-year-old took to social media to tweet about her situation. Robertson, a deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, obtained a copy of the inside page of her Saudi passport and posted it on Twitter, along with a photo of al-Qunun.
Al-Qunun alleged to BenarNews that Thai officials eventually came by to her hotel room to notify her that she had to return to the Middle East the next day.
Her family had abused her physically and psychologically, Al-Qunun told Agence France-Presse.
“My family is a strict and locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair,” AFP quoted her as saying.
Robertson, for his part, challenged comments by the immigration police chief.
“Technically, she hasn’t entered Thailand yet. But how come Thai authorities let Saudi Arabian officials through the reserve area?” Robertson said.
“She is 18 and she has the right to travel freely,” added Robertson, who spent much of Sunday dispatching tweets in support of protecting the Saudi national against any possible harm or negative repercussions if Thailand expelled her back to the Middle East.
Late last year, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia came under intense international scrutiny and criticism after dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was allegedly murdered and his body dismembered by Saudi agents at Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
In its statement issued late in the day, Human Rights Watch evoked the case of another Saudi woman, Dina Ali Lasloom, who was forcibly returned to the kingdom from the Philippines in April 2017, while she was also trying to flee to Australia.
“Saudi women fleeing their families can face severe violence from relatives, deprivation of liberty, and other serious harm if returned against their will,” said Michael Page, the deputy Middle East director for the rights watchdog, as HRW also called for Thailand to grant al-Qunun access to the U.N. refugee agency’s local office so she could claim refugee status.
“Once again we are seeing the abusive influence of Saudi authorities abroad as they seek to forcibly return Saudi women fleeing mistreatment and violence by their families,” Page went on to say.