UN officials interview Saudi teen asylum seeker in Thailand
- Author: Tracy Klein Jan 10, 2019,
Jan 10, 2019, 1:46
Thailand's immigration police chief met Tuesday with officials from the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok, as Saudi Arabia tried to distance itself from accusations that it attempted to block a young woman's effort to flee from her family and seek asylum overseas.
She has been granted a temporary stay in the Southeast Asian country, under the protection of the UNHCR, which will spend about a week processing her asylum claim. "Since she escaped trouble to seek our help. we will not send anyone to their death", he promised.
Ms Alqunun accuses her family of physical and psychological abuse.
Abdulilah al-Shouaibi, charge d'affaires at the Saudi embassy in Bangkok, told Saudi-owned TV channel Khalijia that the woman's father - a senior regional government official - had contacted the diplomatic mission for "help" bringing her back. "They're using violence with her and she faced sexual harassment". Saudi activists say the kingdom, through its embassies overseas, has at times put pressure on border patrol agents in foreign countries to deport the women back to Saudi Arabia. She said she had planned to spend a few days in Thailand so she would not spark suspicion when she left Kuwait.
Ms Mohammed al-Qunun wrote on Twitter that she had chose to share her name and details because she had "nothing to lose" now.
"We must talk to her foreign ministry, and the Immigration Bureau must explain its actions because she's a woman and a minor", Angkhana said. Alqunun had been travelling with her family in Kuwait, from where she may have chosen to flee because it has less restrictions than her homeland on women's travel. Gen. Surachate Hakparn told reporters about the case of the woman, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun.
Initially, Thai authorities said Qunun would be sent back to Saudi Arabia.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun ran away from home over claims her parents beat her, locked her away for months and threatened her - just for cutting her hair.
However, Ms Mohammed al-Qunun insisted she had a visa for Australia, and that she never wanted to stay in Thailand.
Mr Surachate said he would meet Saudi diplomats to clarify Thailand's decision.
In another video, she said she would not leave her hotel room inside the airport - photos showed she had barricaded the door.
"It is a very distressing position she is in", Senator Wong said. "She received a threat from her cousin - he said he wants to see her blood, he wants to kill her". She was in the Bangkok airport, about to be deported to her home country, and was pleading for help.
Human Rights Watch's Australian director, Elaine Pearson, said since Australia has expressed concern in the past about women's rights in Saudi Arabia, it should "come forward and offer protection for this young woman".
She is now staying in Bangkok with her application for refugee status being processed by UNHCR before she can seek asylum in a third country. "They will take me to Saudi Arabia and my father will kill me, because he is so angry", she added. According to rights groups, this can trap women and girls who have abusive families.
Thai immigration authorities denied Qunun's allegations they were acting at the behest of the Saudi government, saying she was refused entry to Thailand on Saturday night because she did not have the proper documents for a visa on arrival, including proof of an onward ticket, Reuters reported.