Saudi woman barricades herself in Thai hotel to resist being sent home
An 18-year-old Saudi woman fleeing her family barricaded herself inside a Thai airport hotel on Monday, refusing to allow immigration officials to escort her on to a flight to Kuwait and saying she fears her family will kill her.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun has been at Bangkok airport since Saturday when she was denied entry by Thai immigration officials, who deny her accusations that she was detained at the behest of the Saudi government. The Saudi Foreign Ministry denied her allegations that its embassy had confiscated her passport, saying in a Tweet she was stopped at the airport for violating Thai immigration laws.
Qunun posted a video on Twitter on Monday of her barricading her hotel door with a table and a mattress.
A Thai immigration official confirmed Qunun was still in the hotel room on Monday morning. Another airport official confirmed that the Kuwait Airways flight she was scheduled to be on had left.
Qunun told journalists she fled Kuwait while her family was visiting the Gulf country and had planned to travel from Thailand to Australia to seek asylum. She said she was detained after leaving her plane in Bangkok and told she would be sent back to Kuwait.
"My brothers and family and the Saudi embassy will be waiting for me in Kuwait," Qunun said by text and voice message from the hotel late on Sunday. "They will kill me," she said. "My life is in danger. My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things."
Asked why she was seeking refuge in Australia, she said: "Physical, emotional and verbal abuse and being imprisoned inside the house for months. They threaten to kill me and prevent me from continuing my education. They won't let me drive or travel. I am oppressed. I love life and work and I am very ambitious but my family is preventing me from living."
Her family could not immediately be reached for comment. In her initial social media pleas, Qunun said her family was powerful in Saudi society but she did not identify them.
Saudi culture and guardianship policy requires women to have permission from a male relative to work, travel, marry and even get some medical treatment.
Thai immigration authorities denied Qunun's allegations they were acting at the behest of the Saudi government, saying she was refused entry because she did not have the proper documents for a visa on arrival.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said on its official Twitter account: "She was stopped by the airport authorities for violating the laws. Her passport was not impounded by the Saudi embassy."
New York-based Human Rights Watch said Thailand should not send Qunun back to her family because she says she faces danger.
"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," Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
Qunun said she had obtained an Australian visa and booked a flight. She said she planned to spend a few days in Thailand so she would not spark suspicion when she left Kuwait.
"When I landed at the airport, someone came and said he would process the (Thai) visa but he took my passport. He came back with what seemed to be airport security and said that my parents objected and said I must return to Saudi Arabia via Kuwait Airways," she said.
She said she believed she was stopped after her family appealed to Kuwait Airways. A spokesman for Kuwait Airways said he had no information about the case.
Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said he had had no contact with Saudi officials or Thailand's foreign minister before Qunun's arrival. He said she was denied entry because she did not have a paid return ticket or hotel reservation.
"She was over-exaggerating... She fled her family from Saudi Arabia and arrived in Thailand but she didn't have necessary documents to enter. Thai immigration had to deny her entry," he said, describing such cases as standard procedure. (Reuters)