BANGKOK (AFP) – The Saudi woman who made a desperate plea for asylum after landing at Bangkok airport will not be forcibly deported from Thailand, an official said yesterday.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun told AFP she ran away from her family while travelling in Kuwait because they subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.
The 18-year-old said she had planned to seek asylum in Australia and feared she would be killed if repatriated by Thai immigration officials who stopped her during transit last Sunday.
Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn had said last Sunday that Qunun was denied entry because of her lack of documents.
But he made an abrupt about-face the next day, following a global media frenzy as the young woman pleaded on Twitter for different countries to help her.
“If she does not want to leave, we will not force her,” he told reporters at Suvarnabhumi airport yesterday, saying the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) would be able to meet her.
“The UNHCR and I will… listen to what she wants, whether or not she wants to receive asylum from any country, and we will help coordinate.”
Qunun was stopped by immigration because Saudi Arabian officials contacted them to say she had fled her family, he added.
If she wished to stay in Thailand, the UN would have to verify the legitimacy of her asylum claims, Surachate said.
“Thailand is a land of smiles. We will not send anyone to die,” he added. “We will take care of her as best as we can.”
The UNHCR said it had been granted access to Qunun at the airport “to assess her need for international refugee protection and find an immediate solution for her situation”.
Qunun had posted a video on Twitter of her barricading her hotel room door with furniture.
She said Saudi and Kuwaiti officials had taken her travel document from her when she landed.
But at the press conference, Surachate said it was Thailand’s “procedure to take the passport of anyone who we deny entry to.”
Earlier a Thai court dismissed an injunction to block Qunun’s deportation, said human rights lawyer Nadthasiri Bergman, who filed the request.
“They said we do not have enough evidence,” she told AFP, adding she planned to appeal.
Charge d’affaires at the Saudi embassy in Bangkok Abdulilah al-Shouaibi told Saudi-owned TV channel Khalijia that the woman’s father had contacted the diplomatic mission for “help” bringing her back.
But he denied that her passport had been seized and that embassy officials were present inside the airport.
A Twitter statement from the Saudi embassy in Bangkok said Qunun was stopped by Thai authorities for “violating the law”.
“She will be deported to the State of Kuwait where her family” lives, it added. Qunun, however, told AFP that she was only travelling in the Gulf state.
If sent back, Qunun told AFP she would likely be imprisoned and was “sure 100 per cent” her family would kill her.
“My family is strict and locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair,” she said.