A teenager who says she is fleeing her abusive family in Saudi Arabia has been stopped at Bangkok’s international airport amid fears she will be sent back to the Middle East by immigration authorities.
The 18-year-old identified herself as Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Al-Qunun on an unverified Twitter account. She posted photographs of herself and her passport, and said she was seeking refugee status from “any country that would protect me from getting harmed or killed due to leaving my religion and torture from my family.”
Al-Qunun said that on landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand, she had her passport confiscated and was being “held” by Saudi embassy officials.
“I cannot flee the airport, I’ve tried but couldn’t. There’s a security guard watching me,” she said on a live video posted on Twitter.
In another tweet she said she had left the room to see how closely she was being watched but was asked to return.
In a statement, Human Rights Watch urged Thai authorities to “immediately halt the planned deportation” of al-Qunun and “allow her unrestricted access to make a refugee claim with the Bangkok office of the United Nations refugee agency.”
“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, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “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.”
Surachet Hakpal, chief of Thailand’s Immigration Bureau, told CNN that al-Qunun had been refused entry into the country because she did not present “any necessary document”. But he denied the Saudi teenager was being detained by Thai authorities.
“In order to enter our country, she must comply with our regulations … This is their (Saudi Arabia’s) internal affairs. We are simply performing our duties” he said. Hakpal also said al-Qunun was trying to escape from an arranged marriage.
Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy director for Asia, based in Bangkok, said no country should interfere with an 18-year-old’s right to travel where she wished. Robertson told CNN that al-Qunun “fears for her life if she is returned to Saudi Arabia and her family, who have physically and psychologically abused her for daring to assert her independence.”
Saudi Arabian officials did not immediately respond to CNN’s requests for comments.