An 18-year-old Saudi woman who had barricaded herself in a room in Bangkok airport hotel and sought asylum has been provided the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Thailand, The Guardian reported on Monday.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who arrived in Bangkok from Kuwait on Saturday, has claimed that her family will kill her if she is forcibly returned. She told Reuters through text and audio messages that she fled Kuwait during a family visit there, and plans to travel to Australia to seek asylum.
Thai immigration officials initally planned to put Qunun on a flight back to Kuwait on Monday, but decided against her after her online pleas drew international attention. “If she goes home it will be dangerous for her so Thailand is ready to help,” General Surachate Hakparn, the head of the country’s immigration police, told media. “Nobody can force her to do anything. We will protect her.”
On Monday night, Qunun tweeted that her father was in Bangkok. This “worried and scared me a lot”, she said. However, she added that she was feeling safe at the moment “under UNHCR protection”.
A 20-year-old friend of Qunun, whose identity The Guardian did not reveal, said the threats to her were real. “She’s ex-Muslim and has a very strict family,” the friend added. “They are using violence with her and she faced sexual harassment. She received a threat from her cousin – he said he wants to see her blood, he wants to kill her.”
The case has drawn attention to Saudi Arabia’s strict social rules, including one that requires women to have the permission of a “male guardian” to travel. According to rights groups, this can trap women and girls who have abusive families.