A Saudi teen who barricaded herself in Bangkok airport to escape family who ‘consider me as property’ could be offered asylum in Australia

  • Rahaf al-Qunun, who locked herself in a hotel room in Bangkok airport in a bid to escape her family, could be offered asylum by Australia.
  • She flew to Thailand from Kuwait, where her family lives. She says she has renounced Islam, and that her family will kill her for it.
  • After her story went viral, officials from the UN’s refugee agency took al-Qunun into their protection. They say they are assessing whether she can be considered a refugee.
  • If they say that she is, Australia’s government is likely to offer her asylum, according to Australian news sources.

A Saudi teenager who barricaded herself in Bangkok’s airport to escape her family could be offered asylum by Australia.

18-year-old Rahaf al-Qunun locked herself in a hotel room at Suvarnabhumi Airport just outside the Thai capital.

She said she was fleeing her family, who she said “consider me as their property” and may kill her for renouncing Islam.

Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun is greeted by Thai immigration authorities at a hotel inside Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand January 7, 2019. Thailand Immigration Police via REUTERS

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Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun is greeted by Thai immigration authorities at a hotel inside Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand January 7, 2019. Thailand Immigration Police via REUTERS
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Reuters

After her story went viral, al-Qunun secured the protection of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which says it will look after her while they assess whether she is a genuine refugee.

According to Australian media, authorities in Australia are likely decided to grant al-Qunun asylum if the UNHCR is satisfied that she is a refugee. The UNHCR says this could take between five and seven days.

al-Qunun left Kuwait on Saturday, by boarding a flight to Bangkok. She has said her intention was to continue to Australia and claim asylum, but that she was stopped by Thai and Saudi authorities.

Immigration chief Maj-Gen Surachate Hakparn addresses media at Suvarnabhumi Airport where Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her family has barricaded herself inside a hotel room in Bangkok.

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Immigration chief Maj-Gen Surachate Hakparn addresses media at Suvarnabhumi Airport where Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her family has barricaded herself inside a hotel room in Bangkok.
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Reuters

While waiting in a hotel room at the airport, al-Qunun barricaded herself in her room and started tweeting about her situation. In a series of tweets she has said she fears her family will kill her if she is sent back to Kuwait because she renounced Islam.

Nobody from her family has commented on the claims. Her father flew to the airport to meet Thai officials, but did not say anything to the media.

After her story caught worldwide attention, she was visited by UNHCR staff and placed under their protection.

On Monday, the head of Thailand’s immigration police said that al-Qunun would not be deported.

Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun walks accompanied by UNHCR members and Thai immigration authorities outside Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok

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Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun walks accompanied by UNHCR members and Thai immigration authorities outside Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok
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Reuters

Surachate Hakparn told a press conference: “She is now under the sovereignty of Thailand; no-one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere.” He added: “Thailand is a land of smiles. We will not send anyone to die.”

Australia’s government has said publicly that al-Qunun’s claims are “deeply concerning,” and that it is monitoring the situation.

Australian news outlet The New Daily reported that officials “would likely grant her a humanitarian visa” if the UNHCR approves. Nine News, and also The Wall Street Journal, said that officials are merely “weighing” granting the application.

Read more: Q&A: The hurdles and obstacles Saudi women runaways face

al-Qunun has also tweeted to ask for asylum from the UK, US, and Canada.

Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Thailand has denied reports that Riyadh requested her extradition.