A Saudi woman, who is being held in Bangkok after trying to escape her abusive family, has told of her terror that she will be killed if she is deported.
Rahaf Mohammed al Qunun, 18, has been trapped in the airport since arriving at 4am GMT on Sunday.
She intended to reach Australia and apply for asylum but a Saudi official in the Thai airport confiscated her passport after her father reported her for travelling without her male ‘guardian’. He claimed she was mentally ill but failed to provide any evidence.
Rahaf was due to be escorted on to the 11.15am (4.15am GMT) Kuwait Airways flight 412 from Bangkok to Kuwait this morning.
But Qunun posted a video on Twitter on Monday of her barricading her hotel door with a table and a mattress.
A Thai immigration official confirmed Qunun was still in the hotel room on Monday morning. Another airport official confirmed that the Kuwait Airways flight she was scheduled to be on had left.
Last night, speaking from an airport hotel room guarded by security officials, she told MailOnline: ‘I am scared.
‘My brother told me that he’s waiting with some Saudi men.
‘They will take me to Saudi Arabia and my father will kill me, because he is so angry.
‘He will kill me. My family do this. I know them.
‘They kept telling me they will kill me if I do something wrong – they say that since I was a child.’
She, her parents, and her six siblings live in Ha’il in Saudi Arabia, where her father works as a government official. She has suffered beatings and emotional abuse from her family, at one point being locked in her room for six months for cutting her hair.
When they took a trip to visit family in Kuwait she made her escape, buying flights from Kuwait to Thailand and from Thailand to Australia with help from a friend, and taking a taxi to the airport at 4am after checking her father was asleep.
She said: ‘When I came to Thailand someone told me that he will help me to get a visa for Thailand in the airport. After that he took my passport. After one hour he came back with five or six people, I think they were police or something and then they told me my father is so angry and I must go back to Saudi Arabia. They know I ran away from him.’
In a text conversion on the messaging app Whatsapp, her father told an airport employee official Rahaf was mentally ill, but when challenged to provide evidence or documentation, he fell silent.
Rahaf demanded her passport back and asked to be allowed to fly to a another country, but officials insisted she would be deported.
She said: ‘They kept telling me I can’t get a visa. The airline told me I have to stay here so I can go back to Kuwait. From Kuwait they [my family] will take me to Saudi Arabia.
‘They will kill me. I am so scared. I want to go to another country, and stay safe. I have a visa for Australia, I want to go there. I don’t know what I will do.
‘I have to fight, because I don’t want to lose my life.’
Human Rights Watch has called on the Thai government to grant sanctuary to Rahaf, who they believe may be at ‘serious risk of harm’ if returned to her family.
The charity said no visa was necessary because Rahaf had not applied to enter Thailand because her passport was taken, along with her plane ticket to Australia – and that Thai authorities have prevented her from having access to UNHCR to make a refugee claim.
Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director Phil Robertson told MailOnline: ‘As far as we can tell, her father is a prominent government official, I expect he’s going to be very very harsh.
‘Certainly he’s senior enough to do whatever he wants to his daughter and nobody is going to raise a finger against him.
‘There’s a long history of what they call ‘honour violence’.
‘I think she’s at serious risk. We’ve been pressing the UN to get in there. They need to go to the airport.
Since her Kafkaesque imprisonment began this morning, Rahaf has shared via Twitter her reasons for fleeing her family and the threatening behavior of Saudi officials in Bangkok airport.
She said: ‘My family is strict and locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair,’ she said, adding that she is certain she will be imprisoned if she is sent back.
‘I’m sure 100 percent they will kill me as soon as I get out of the Saudi jail,’ she said, adding that she was ‘scared’ and ‘losing hope’.
In another tweet she said: ‘I have been threatened by several staff from the Saudi embassy and the Kuwaiti airlines, and they said ‘If you run, we will find you and kidnap you, then deal with you’ I really don’t know how they are going to behave in case I run.’
In another tweet, with an accompanying video, she said: ‘There is an airport person who constantly follows me. I can’t even ask for protection or asylum in Thailand. Thai police refuse to help me.’
She also shared a picture of her passport ‘because I want you to know I’m real and exist’‘.
Another tweet read: ‘I’m afraid my family will kill me.’
By 2.30pm GMT, Rahaf was in a hotel on the airport grounds with multiple security and immigration officials preventing her from leaving the building.
At 4.30pm she tried to plead with the President of the United states directly, tweeting: ‘@realDonaldTrump please help me. 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.’
President Trump considers the kingdom’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, a close ally, and has rejected the findings of his own intelligence agencies which linked ‘MBS’, as he is known, to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Thai officials claim it is a family matter and say she will be deported to Saudi – where renouncing Islam is punishable by death, and activists say women are at risk of ‘honour killings’ by family members – tomorrow morning.
It is a chilling echo of the case of Dina Ali Lasloom, 24, a Saudi woman who in April 2017 was held for 13 hours in Manilla airport while trying to flee a forced marriage. She was forcibly taken back to Saudi Arabia by uncles and never heard from again.
A Thai official confirmed today that an 18-year-old Saudi woman seeking asylum was denied entry to Thailand and held in Bangkok’s airport.
Thailand’s immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told AFP: ‘Rahaf Mohammed M Alqunun ran away from her family to avoid marriage and she is concerned she may be in trouble returning to Saudi Arabia’.
He said: ‘She had no further documents such as return ticket or money.
He added that Thai authorities contacted the ‘Saudi Arabia embassy to coordinate’.
Thailand’s immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said Rahaf would be sent back to Saudi Arabia by Monday morning, adding, ‘It’s a family problem’.
But Rahaf and Human Rights Watch said in fact she was stopped by Saudi and Kuwaiti officials when she arrived in Suvarnabhumi airport and her passport was forcibly taken from her after a a male guardian had reported her for traveling ‘without his permission’.
Rahaf said she was trying to flee her family, who subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.
She took to Twitter to plead her case, creating a profile with an Arabic bio that reads ‘I just want to survive’.
During a video livestream showing her walking around a carpeted hallway, Rahaf spoke in Arabic about how her father had told Saudi embassy officials she was a ‘psychiatric patient’ who had to be returned, even though she had ‘an Australian visa’.
‘I can’t escape the airport,’ she said in the live video. ‘I tried but there’s a security (official) watching me.’
Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director Phil Robertson told MailOnline: ‘Rahaf faces being sent back to face honor related violence from her family, and openly says that her father will kill her.’
Earlier today Rahaf told the BBC that she had renounced Islam, and feared she would be forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia and killed by her family.
Thai police Major General Surachate Hakparn told the BBC that Ms Mohammed al-Qunun was escaping a marriage but because she did not have a visa to enter Thailand, police had denied her entry and were in the process of repatriating her through the same airline she had taken, Kuwait Airlines.
Gen Surachate said he was unaware of any passport seizure and it is unclear why Ms Mohammed al-Qunun would need a Thai visa if she was in transit to Australia and had an Australian visa.
Online, Arabic speakers, human rights activists and journalists have attempted to bring a media spotlight to the case on Twitter using the hashtag #SaveRahaf.
Her story has all the hallmarks of the case of Dina Ali Lasloom, 24, a Saudi woman who hoped to find sanctuary in Australia from a forced marriage.
In April 2017 she was detained in Manilla airport by authorities in the Phillipines, taken back to Saudi Arabia by her uncles and never heard from again.
She used a Canadian tourist’s phone to send a message, a video of which was posted to Twitter, saying her family would kill her.
The Saudi embassy in Thailand and officials in Riyadh could not be reached for comment today.
The ultra-conservative Middle Eastern kingdom has long been criticised for imposing some of the world’s toughest restrictions on women.
That includes a guardianship system that allows men to exercise arbitrary authority to make decisions on behalf of their female relatives.
If punished for ‘moral’ crimes, they could become victims of further violence in ‘honour killings’ at the hands of their families, activists say.
A spokeswoman for the United Nations’ refugee agency, the UNHCR, told MailOnline: ‘For reasons of confidentiality and protection, we are not in a position to comment on the details (or even confirm or deny the existence) of individual cases.
‘However, UNHCR consistently advocates that refugees and asylum seekers – having been confirmed or claimed to be in need of international protection – cannot be returned to their countries of origin according to the principle of non-refoulement, which prevents states from expelling or returning persons to a territory where their life or freedom would be threatened.
‘This principle is recognized as customary international law, and is also enshrined in Thailand’s other treaty obligations.’
A spokeswoman for Amenesty International said the charity was ‘not involved’ in the case.
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