Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, an 18-year-old Saudi woman, barricaded herself in an airport hotel in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport this weekend to avoid being deported on her way to seek asylum in Australia, Reuters reports. She claims she was escaping her allegedly abusive family.
Qunun had been vacationing with her family in Kuwait last week when she ran away and boarded a plane to Bangkok Saturday en route to Australia, according to NPR. Thai security stopped her by the request of the Saudi embassy, proceeded to take her passport, and held her in a hotel room. Officials were planning to send her back to Kuwait until she received international press attention after live-tweeting her situation.
Qunun’s passport was returned to her on Monday and she’s currently under protection with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, as it assesses her request for refugee status.
Video from @rahaf84427714 just sent from her hotel room at the #Bangkok airport. She has barricaded herself in the room & says she will not leave until she is able to see #UNHCR. Why is #Thailand not letting @Refugees see her for refugee status determination? @hrw#SaveRahafpic.twitter.com/3lb2NDRsVG— Phil Robertson (@Reaproy) January 7, 2019
She told the BBC her family became abusive when she renounced Islam. Under Saudi Arabia’s Islamic male guardianship system, women require approval from a male relative for basic rights like enrolling in school, working, traveling, and more.
“Physical, emotional, and verbal abuse and being imprisoned inside the house for months. They threaten to kill me and prevent me from continuing my education,” Qunun explained to Reuters.
“My life is in danger. My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things,” she went on.
Qunun’s relatives have yet to comment on her accusations of abuse.
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Qunun posted on Twitter that her father, a senior government official, showed up at the Bangkok airport. She wrote his arrival scared her “a lot.”
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, told NPR a group of Thai lawyers helped stop airport officials from deporting Qunun.
The Thai authorities have granted UNHCR access to Saudi national, Rahaf Mohammed Al-qunun, at Bangkok airport to assess her need for international refugee protection and find an immediate solution for her situation.— UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) January 7, 2019
Our statement: https://t.co/FVVGdUmHMu
Human rights advocates warn Saudi Arabia male guardianship travel restrictions make it extremely difficult for women and girls to escape abusive families.
“Rahaf is at risk of great harm if Thai authorities deport her back to Saudi Arabia via Kuwait,” Samah Hadid, Middle East director of campaigns at human rights organization Amnesty International, said in a statement.
“She has expressed clear fears for her safety if she returns to her family, and could face criminal charges in Saudi Arabia for disobeying laws on male guardianship,” Hadid explained.
Saudi women who stand up against the country’s oppressive laws under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have experienced serious consequences. Despite progress like the lifted decades-long driving ban, dozens of rights activists have been detained and tortured.
Rahaf has averted deportation & is with @refugees in #Bangkok. Let’s remember all #Saudi women fighting for freedom. Pay attention to Saudi feminists who’ve long fought for them & who are being detained & tortured for wanting to end guardianship system #FreeSaudiWomen#SaveRahafhttps://t.co/NqbRBlYpR4— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) January 7, 2019
Robertson, of Human Rights Watch, told NPR that Qunun is "incredibly courageous and brave, and she's exhausted, but she is prepared to fight to the end."
People around the world have taken to social media to send Qunun their support.
We are all behind your Rahaf!!! Look forward to welcoming you into Australia!!!!— Chloe (@ChloeMorello) January 7, 2019
Thank u for yr courage dear @Rahaf84427714. U have given 2019 a great start and hope to millions of girls suffering under barbaric laws in Islamicdom. Daughters are not cattle or property, nor r they guardians of family ‘honour’; they are human beings with human rights. Period.— Tarek Fatah (@TarekFatah) January 7, 2019