An 18-year-old Saudi woman en route to Australia has claimed she is being detained at a Thailand airport after trying to escape her family.
Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Alqunun says she is being “held” by Saudi embassy officials at a hotel room at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport and fears she will be killed if she is returned home.
Despite having a visa to travel to Australia, Ms Alqunun claims her passport was confiscated by Saudi Arabian diplomatic staff upon landing at the airport on Sunday (Australian time).
“I cannot flee the airport, I’ve tried but couldn’t. There’s a security guard watching me,” Ms Alqunun said on a live video posted from her Twitter account.
Thailand’s Immigration Bureau chief Surachet Hakpal said Ms Alqunun was trying to escape from an arranged marriage, but had been refused entry into the country because she did not present “any necessary document(s)”.
Ms Alqunun said she was informed that she would soon be sent back to her home country.
“They said ‘you have three minutes to pack, and you will be flown back to Kuwait tomorrow at 11.15am, then returned to Saudi Arabia’,” she said.
went out of the room to figure out if they’re watching me closely or not
I’m under there sight all times “been asked to get back to the room”
She was checking when I’m going to be send back to Kuwait before 11h of the flight time they must want it to end as soon as possible pic.twitter.com/mwBbKQ9QN7
— rahaf Mohameed (@rahaf84427714) January 6, 2019
‘I’m sure 100 percent they will kill me as soon as I get out of the Saudi jail,’ she said.
Her father and brother are understood to be waiting at Kuwait airport to collect her and bring her back to Saudi Arabia.
In a bid to contest her deportation, Ms Alqunun revealed her identity and passport details in a Twitter post, saying she had “nothing to lose”.
Ms Alqunun pleaded directly with US President Donald Trump for help.
“I’m hoping that you heard about me. I’m Saudi girl who fled from her family. Now I could be killed if they drag me back to my male guardian,” she tweeted.
Saudi women are subject to strict male guardianship laws and must obtain consent from a male relative for travel documents.
According to a Thai human rights worker who spoke with her, Ms Alqunun had apparently been locked in her room by her family for six months because she had cut her hair.
Ms Alqunun said she had also been beaten by her brother, adding that she was on a trip with her family to Kuwait when she fled to Bangkok airport.
Human Rights Watch Asia division deputy director Phil Robertson said the organisation was trying to lodge an asylum claim with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
He also questioned a statement by Thailand’s Immigration chief to the BBC that Ms Alqunun did not have a travel visa, which prevented her from entering Thailand.
Police Lieutenant General Surachet Hakparn said Ms Alqunun was in the process of being repatriated through Kuwait Airlines, the same airline she had arrived on.
Mr Robertson said Ms Alqunun was in transit to Australia when she was detained and did not need a visa, which is available on arrival anyway.
“What is truly appalling is how the Saudi Arabian government has acted in sending an official to physically seize her passport from her in Bangkok airport international transit,” he said.
“She is 18 years old, she has an Australian visa, and she has the right to travel where she wishes and no government should interfere in that.”
Mr Robertson said someone in the Thai government “needs to explain why diplomats from Saudi Arabia are allowed to walk in closed areas of the Bangkok airport, seizing one of their citizen’s passports”.