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Mon 7 Jan 2019 08:00 AM

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Saudi woman facing Bangkok deportation after attempting to flee to Australia

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun had been on a trip to Kuwait with her family when she fled on a flight

Saudi woman facing Bangkok deportation after attempting to flee to Australia
Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who said she is fleeing from her family faces deportation by Thai authorities after reportedly being trapped at Bangkok’s main airport while trying to transit to Australia.

Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun, whose situation has gone viral via her Twitter feed, told Human Rights Watch that she arrived at the airport on Jan. 5 from Kuwait, and that a representative of the Saudi embassy seized her passport to prevent her from traveling to Australia.

Thai officials told her she would be forced to return on Monday to Kuwait to her father and brother.

"I’m not leaving my room until I see UNHCR. I want asylum," Al-Qunun said, referring to the United Nations refugee agency, in a video sent from her hotel room at the airport.

"I’m shouting out for help of humanity," she wrote on her Twitter feed, where she’s been documenting her situation in Arabic and English.

She said that she’s "in real danger" if Thai authorities go through with their plan to deport her on Monday.

The Saudi embassy in Bangkok said in a Twitter statement that it hasn’t impounded Al-Qunun’s passport, adding it doesn’t have the authority to stop her at the airport or anywhere else. It said she will be deported to Kuwait where her family live.

Criminal charges

Human Rights Watch said she’s at risk of facing criminal charges in Saudi Arabia for "parental disobedience," which can result in imprisonment, as well as for "harming the reputation of the kingdom."

"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," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Police Lieutenant General Surachate Hakparn, the head of the Thai immigration bureau, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Bloomberg wasn’t able to speak to Al-Qunun or independently verify her story, though she posted a copy of her passport on Twitter.

While Saudi Arabia has gradually granted women more rights as part of an economic overhaul led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the conservative Islamic kingdom still applies a guardianship system that makes women legal dependents of male relatives. Women of all ages need permission from their guardian - typically a father, husband or brother - to marry or travel abroad.

In 2017, another Saudi woman, Dina Ali Lasloom, was forcibly returned to her family while in transit in the Philippines while on her way to Australia.

Thailand’s military government was criticised last year for arresting Hakeem Al-Araibi, a former Bahrain soccer player with refugee status in Australia. He had come to Thailand for his honeymoon and remains in detention pending possible extradition to Bahrain.

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