Bangkok: Thailand’s immigration police chief on Monday said that a 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family at the weekend will be given temporary entry to the country.
Thai immigration officials earlier tried to return Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Al-Qunun to Kuwait, where her family was located. But the teenager refused to board a flight to the Middle East on Monday, claiming her abusive family threatened to kill her after she ran away from them.
She barricaded herself in her hotel room at Bangkok’s main airport.
Al-Qunun posted photographs of herself as well as her passport on Twitter and said she was seeking refugee status from “any country that would protect me from getting harmed or killed due to leaving my religion and torture from my family”, CNN reported.
The teenager said she believed her family subjected her to several abuses, including beatings and threats, and would kill her if she went back because she had renounced Islam. The Thai authorities said her status would be assessed by the UN refugee agency.
Rights groups including Human Rights Watch expressed grave concerns for Al-Qunun and urged Thai authorities to “immediately halt the planned deportation” and “allow her unrestricted access to make a refugee claim with the Bangkok office of the UN refugee agency”.
Thailand’s chief of immigration police Surachate Hakparn said that the country would “protect her as best we can”.
“She is now under the sovereignty of Thailand, no one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere,” he said. “We will talk to her and do whatever she requests.
“Since she escaped trouble to seek our help… we will not send anyone to their death.”
Al-Qunun said she had originally intended to fly on to Australia but decided to try and enter Thailand instead. But after landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand, she had her passport confiscated and had been “held” by Saudi embassy officials.
She said that when she approached a visa on arrival counter at the airport — Saudi citizens can apply for a temporary visa provided they have a “confirmed return ticket within 15 days” — she saw a group of Saudi diplomats waiting for her.
Al-Qunun said the Saudis tried to make her sign a piece of paper and when she refused and appealed to Thai immigration officials, she was escorted to a transit hotel.
However, the Saudi Arabian embassy in Thailand denied it had seized the teenager’s passport. In a statement released on Twitter, it said Al-Qunun did not have a return ticket or a tourist programme, which led the Thai authorities to decide on sending her back to Kuwait.
“The embassy does not have the authority to stop her at the airport or anywhere else. She was stopped by the airport authorities for violating the law,” the statement said.
“Her passport was not impounded by the Saudi embassy,” it added.