Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who says she is at risk of being killed by her family for forsaking Islam, was fighting deportation from Thailand to Kuwait on Monday in a case that made global headlines.
The teenager was in Kuwait on holiday with her family when she fled two days ago, the BBC reported. She was trying to travel to Australia via a connecting flight in Bangkok reportedly to seek asylum, news reports said.
On Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW), a rights watchdog, urged Thai authorities to halt plans to deport the woman. She said she was detained after leaving her plane in Bangkok and told she would be sent back to Kuwait.
“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 on Monday.
She was scheduled to be sent back on Kuwait Airways flight 412 leaving at 11:15 a.m. local time but was reportedly not on the flight.
“My brothers and family and the Saudi embassy will be waiting for me in Kuwait,” Qunun told Reuters by text and voice message from a Bangkok transit 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.”
Thai immigration authorities denied Qunun’s allegations they were acting at the behest of the Saudi government, saying she was refused entry to Thailand on Saturday night because she did not have the proper documents for a visa on arrival, including proof of an onward ticket, Reuters reported.
A representative from the Saudi embassy in Thailand said there was no one available to comment. Thailand-Saudi relations had been fraught for decades over various issues but have recently improved.
Qunun said she planned to spend a few days in Thailand, a popular destination for medical treatment, 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 told Reuters.
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, Reuters reported.
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 a 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 of deportation as standard procedure.