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Saudi woman to be granted asylum

January 7, 2019

A Saudi woman who was detained at the airport in Bangkok said she would be killed if Thai immigration officials returned her to Saudi Arabia. The UN refugee agency is expected to approve her asylum claim.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunan
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/Human Rights Watch/Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun

Thailand halts plans to deport Saudi girl fleeing abuse

A young Saudi woman who says she is fleeing her family can stay in Thailand and is expected to be granted asylum in another country, the head of Thailand's immigration police said on Monday.

Major General Surachate Hakparn said the woman, 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, had been placed "under the care" of the UN's refugee agency.

"The High Commission told me she will be granted asylum in a third country within five days," he added.

Alqunun says she has suffered physical and psychological abuse by family members and fears for her life if she is returned to Saudi Arabia.

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What we know so far:

  • Alqunun gained international attention over the weekend after she landed at Bangkok's international airport from Kuwait on her way to Australia, where she planned to claim asylum.
  • On Twitter, she told followers she had barricaded herself in a hotel room near the airport after Thai officials stopped her from boarding a connecting flight to Australia.
  • Thai police said they denied her passage because she did not have a return ticket or an Australian visa.
  • But Human Rights Watch (HRW) told DW they backed Alqunun's claim that Saudi and Kuwaiti officials had forcibly taken her passport and visa after her flight arrived in Bangkok.
  • Alqunun got her passport back from UN officials after Thai authorities granted them entry to her hotel room on Monday.
  • Before she was put under the UNHCR's care, Alqunun's lawyer Nadthasiri Bergman tried to file an injunction at a Thai court to block her deportation, but it was swiftly rejected due to a lack of evidence.

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'She is very frightened'

Alqunun says her male relatives in Saudi Arabia beat her, threatened to kill her and locked her in her room for six months for cutting her hair. While the family was on holiday in Kuwait, she escaped on a flight to Bangkok, HRW said.

"She is very frightened, she is very tired. She has been awake for four days," Phil Robertson, HRW deputy director, told DW.

Thailand usually returns refugees and asylum-seekers to their country of origin. The southeast Asian country does not recognize their status and often arrests them before deporting them.

Germany's ambassador to Thailand, Georg Schmidt, wrote on Twitter that German officials shared "the considerable concern for Rahaf Mohammed and are in contact with the Thai side and with the embassies of the countries she has turned to."

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amp, jcg, jlw/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

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