Saudi teen asking for asylum after barricading herself in Thai airport

An 18-year-old Saudi Arabia woman fleeing from who she says are abusive parents was allowed to stay in Bangkok Monday while the United Nations’ refugee agency assesses her asylum claims.

Thai Immigration Police Chief Surachet Hakparn evaluates a copy of a passport of Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, a Saudi Arabian girl who seeks for asylum and has barricaded herself at a hotel room, in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday. Photo by Rungroj Yongrit
Thai Immigration Police Chief Surachet Hakparn evaluates a copy of a passport of Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, a Saudi Arabian girl who seeks for asylum and has barricaded herself at a hotel room, in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday. Photo by Rungroj Yongrit

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun was taken to a safe location in Bangkok where U.N. staff members will interview her and process her status determination in the coming days, the Washington Post reported.
Authorities were going to deport her to Kuwait, where she left her vacationing family, but she barricaded herself in a hotel room at the airport and demanded to speak to U.N. officials. Alqunun had said that she feared for her life if she was returned to her family.

She tweeted that she learned that her father had arrived in Thailand to see her, which made her “worried and scared.”
“I want to go to another country that I seek asylum,” Alqunun wrote. “But at least I feel [safe] now under UNHCR protection with the agreement of Thailand authorities. And I finally got my passport back.”

She had been detained at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport since Saturday night but she refused to board a flight back to Kuwait to rejoin her family Monday. She was eventually granted access to U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees officials and left the hotel under their care.

Thai officials said it will be the teenager’s decision on whether to see her father or not.
“I want U.N.,” Alqunun wrote on Twitter Monday. “I’m not going to open the door. I want U.N.”

A video in which she is heard talking to someone asking for the U.N. has been viewed more than 60,000 times.

The Australia Broadcasting Corp. reported initially that Thai officials had blocked U.N. officials from visiting the teenager and that an injunction had been filed by local lawyers to stop her deportation.

Thai officials denied Alqunun entry there while she was traveling to Australia on a three-month multiple-entry tourist visa. She said she intends to seek asylum there.

UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the agency is working to find a solution to Alqunun’s situation.

“UNHCR has been following developments closely and immediately sought access from the Thai authorities to meet with Rahaf to assess her need for international protection,” Fleming wrote on Twitter. “UNHCR consistently advocates that refugees and asylum seekers — having been confirmed or claimed to be in need of international protection — cannot be returned to their countries of origin.”

The teenager, who escaped from her family in Kuwait while they vacationed there, has said she will be killed if she was returned. She said she’s been physically and psychologically abused.

“My family is strict and locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair,” Alqunun said. “I’m sure, 100 percent, they will kill me as soon as I get out of the Saudi jail.”

Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director for Human Rights Watch, said Alqunun needs protection.

“Rahaf faces grave harm if she is forced back to Saudi Arabia so she should be allowed to see UNHCR and apply for asylum, and Thailand should agree to follow whatever the U.N. refugee agency decides,” he said.

“She’s desperately fearful of her family, including her father who is a senior government official, and given Saudi Arabia’s long track record of looking the other way in so-called honor violence incidents, her worry that she could be killed if returned cannot be discounted.”

ByClyde Hughes