UN officials meet with Saudi woman barricaded inside Thai transit hotel room
World / 7 January 2019, 3:40pm / Hathai Techakitteranun
Bangkok - UN officials have been granted access to an 18-year-old Saudi woman facing deportation from Thailand after she said she was a victim of domestic abuse in her home country, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a statement.
"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," the agency said late Monday.
Non-refoulement is a principle in international law that forbids a country receiving asylum seekers from returning them to a country in which they would likely face danger.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun arrived at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport late Saturday en route to Australia from Kuwait. Immigration officials stopped her when she failed to provide a return ticket, details about her stay in Thailand or money, a spokesman for airport immigration police said.
Citing "reasons of confidentiality and protection," the UNHCR said it could not reveal the details or outcome of the meeting with al-Qunun.
The UN statement came after the head of Thai immigration police Surachate Hakparn told reporters that authorities have halted deportation efforts to allow a discussion with the UN.
"If she doesn't want to go back then we cannot send her back. Right now, she doesn't want to go back. So, we will not force her," said Surachet.
"We will not deport her today," he added.
Al-Qunun said on Twitter that her passport had been seized by a representative of the Saudi embassy in Bangkok. The embassy would neither deny nor confirm al-Qanun's claim when reached by dpa.
Al-Qunun, barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room, said she has a visa for Australia and that she wants to seek asylum there.
"I am not leaving my hotel room until I see UNHCR. I want asylum," she said in a video posted on Twitter on Monday, referring to the UN Refugee Agency.
"Kuwait airlines and Saudi embassy work together!! They took my passport," al-Qunun tweeted.
Al-Qunun created the Twitter account at the weekend and had gained more than 50,000 followers by late Monday.
Al-Qunun told Human Rights Watch that she fears for her safety if forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia.
She claims she was beaten and threatened to be killed by her male relatives, who she says kept her in her room for six months for cutting her hair.
Al-Qunun fled while her family was visiting Kuwait, which unlike Saudi Arabia does not require a male relative's approval for an adult woman to depart the country, according to the rights group.
"Saudi women fleeing their families can face severe violence from relatives, deprivation of liberty, and other serious harm if returned against their will," HRW's deputy Middle East director Michael Page said.
"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," he added.
Thailand does not recognize the status of refugees and asylum seekers, who are generally treated as illegal immigrants and incarcerated.
Most recently, a Bahraini football player granted refugee status in Australia was arrested at the same airport in late November upon request by the Bahraini authorities. He is currently being held in a Thai prison awaiting trial.