A Saudi teenager who was denied entry at Bangkok airport told Thai immigration officials she would be murdered if she was repatriated.
The incident comes as Saudi Arabia faces intensifying scrutiny over its investigation and handling of the notorious murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul last year, which has sparked renewed criticism of its human rights record.
Rahaf Mohammed M Alqunun, 18, told AFP she was stopped by Saudi and Kuwaiti officials when she arrived at Suvarnabhumi airport and had her travel document forcibly taken from her, a claim backed by Human Rights Watch.
“They took my passport,” she told AFP, adding that her male guardian had reported her for traveling “without his permission.”
Rahaf said she was trying to flee from her family, who subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.
“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% they will kill me as soon as I get out of the Saudi jail,” she said, adding that she was “scared” and “losing hope.”
Rahaf was stopped from entering Thailand when she flew in from Kuwait on Sunday, Thailand’s immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told AFP.
“She had no further documents such as return ticket or money,” he said, adding that Rahaf was currently staying at an airport hotel.
“She ran away from her family to avoid marriage and she is concerned she may be in trouble returning to Saudi Arabia. We sent officials to take care of her now,” he said.
He added that Thai authorities had contacted the “Saudi Arabia embassy to coordinate.”
However, Rahaf disputed his account, saying that she was only in transit to seek asylum in Australia, and was accosted by Saudi and Kuwaiti embassy representatives when she arrived at Suvarnabhumi airport.
She took to Twitter to plead her case, creating a profile with an Arabic bio that reads “I just want to survive.”
استناداً إلى اتفاقية 1951 وبروتوكول عام 1967 ، أنا رهف محمد ، أطلب رسمياً من الأمم المتحده تمنحني وضع لاجئ لأي دولة تحميني من التعرض للضرر أو القتل بسبب ترك الدين والتعذيب من عائلتي. https://t.co/dym3rDB1jz
— Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد (@rahaf84427714) January 6, 2019
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 said the Thai authorities must allow the teenager to make a refugee claim with the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.
“Saudi women fleeing their families can face severe violence from relatives, deprivation of liberty, and other serious harm if returned against their will,” said Michael Page, HRW deputy Middle East director.
“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.”
However, immigration head Surachate said Rahaf would be sent back to Saudi Arabia by Monday morning.
“It’s a family problem,” he said of the case.
– with reporting by Agence France-Presse