Rights group urges Thailand not to deport Saudi woman fleeing her family

Rahaf told AFP she was stopped by Saudi and Kuwaiti officials when she arrived in Suvarnabhumi airport

Rahaf told AFP she was stopped by Saudi and Kuwaiti officials when she arrived in Suvarnabhumi airport

The Saudi Embassy has no authority to stop anyone at the airport, Saudi media reports. The authorities should also allow her unrestricted access to make a refugee claim with the Bangkok office of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and should respect UNHCR's decision under the agency's protection mandate. From Kuwait they [my family] will take me to Saudi Arabia.

Her fears are backed by Human Rights Watch.

A Saudi woman used social media to draw attention to her plight trying to flee her family, claiming that authorities in Thailand confiscated her passport and were holding her Sunday at an airport hotel room in Bangkok.

"I'm calling for all people inside the transit area in Bangkok to protest against deporting me to Kuwait", she tweeted today.

Ms Alqunun said she had been abused by her family and would be killed if she is returned home, because she renounced Islam.

She also said she had asserted her independence, but had been forced to pray and wear a hijab and that she had been beaten by her brother.

Because she did not have a visa to enter Thailand, he said police had denied her entry and were in the process of repatriating her through the same airline she had taken, Kuwait Airlines.

However, immigration head Surachate said Rahaf would be sent back to Saudi Arabia by Monday morning.

"She was at the Bangkok airport on the way to Australia - she had a visa to go to Australia - and her passport was seized by a Saudi embassy official in the airport", said Phil Robertson, deputy director Asia for Human Rights Watch.

"The UN Refugee Agency has been following developments closely and has been trying to seek access from the Thai authorities to meet with Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, to assess her need for global protection", it said in a statement.

"The Liberal Government must act swiftly and bring her here to safety".

The Associated Press reached Alqunun by telephone in her hotel room where she spoke briefly, saying that someone took her passport after telling her she could get a visa for Thailand.

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Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun fled Kuwait, where she was holidaying with her family, for Australia, where she meant to claim asylum.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry said on its official Twitter account: "She was stopped by the airport authorities for violating the laws".

But the Saudi embassy in Bangkok said she was being held for not having a return ticket.

Ms Alqunun is understood to have fled from her family two days ago while they were on a trip to Kuwait. I can't even ask for protection or asylum in Thailand.

The UNHCR said that according to the principle of non-refoulement, asylum seekers can not be returned to their country of origin if their life is under threat. Thai police refuse to help me'.

"I'm sure 100 percent they will kill me as soon as I get out of the Saudi jail", she said, adding that she was "scared" and "losing hope".

Al-Qunun was trying to escape an arranged marriage and was held in Thailand for not presenting "any necessary documents", Surachet Hakpal, chief of the Thailand's Immigration Bureau told CNN.

"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, HRW deputy Middle East director.

Qunun said she had obtained an Australian visa and booked a flight.

Saudi Arabia has come under fierce criticism following the murder of dissident journalist Khashoggi inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate on October 2 - a case that stunned the world.

Robertson compared her case to that of Dina Ali Lasloom, who was detained by Saudi officials in Manila when she tried to seek asylum in Australia in April previous year.

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