UNHCR probing case of Saudi woman detained in Bangkok


Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, captured an worldwide spotlight after she pleaded on social media for help in seeking asylum, saying her life would be in danger if she was sent back to Kuwait, where she had slipped away from her family during a trip there and boarded a flight to Bangkok.

She had been holed up in a Bangkok hotel room, after being stopped by Saudi Arabian diplomatic staff who claimed she did not have the correct documentation. It's still possible the Thai government will deport her.

Lawmakers and activists in Australia and Britain urged their governments to grant asylum to Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who was finally allowed by Thailand to enter the country late on Monday, after almost 48 hours stranded at Bangkok airport under threat of being expelled.

On Monday, the chief of Thailand's immigration police said that al-Qunun was "allowed to stay" in his country, and that she had "left the airport with the UNHCR [United Nations Human Rights Council]".

Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn told reporters Monday that 18-year-old Ramaf Mohammed Alqunun would be granted entry under the protection of the office of the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees.

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"Due to privacy concerns, we can not comment on a specific case without signed consent", said Nancy Caron, a spokeswoman for Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

The Saudi foreign ministry said in a tweet that its embassy was in touch with the woman's father and the Thai government, but its diplomats had not met or communicated with her. She was afraid of what her family were planning; "I am assuming that they are going to force me into marriage sooner or later."I have been threatened multiple times and my brother has checked my room five times now". She said she was "100 percent sure" her family would kill her if she was sent back.

She was finally allowed to enter Thailand late on Monday after spending 48 hours at Bangkok airport, some of it barricaded in a transit lounge hotel room. We will not do that.

However amid the ongoing concern over the woman's life, New York-based nonprofit Human Rights Watch requested Thailand to "immediately halt the planned deportation" of Rahaf. On Twitter, she has expressed fear of such a meeting.

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun drew attention to her plight through social media posts over the weekend.

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In her initial social media pleas, the Saudi teen said her family was powerful in Saudi society but she did not identify them. Alqunun's Twitter account has attracted tens of thousands of followers in less than 48 hours and her story has grabbed the attention of foreign governments and the United Nations refugee agency. Under these laws, a woman must have her male guardian's permission in order to obtain a passport, travel overseas or marry.

It also shows the limits of reforms being pushed by Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman as he struggles to fix damage to his reputation after the grisly killing three months ago of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul. She claims she was kept her in her room for six months for cutting her hair.

After fleeing her family and renouncing her Islamic faith, Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Alqunun fears for her life as she attempts to travel to Australia seeking refuge.

"The embassy does not have the authority to stop her at the airport or anywhere else". Immigration chief Surachate defended stopping her and argued that otherwise many people would use the same excuse to stay in Thailand. Her passport has been returned.

"The fact is she didn't have any money", he said.

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But there are reports from Qunun supporters that her visa to Australia has been cancelled.