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Saudi Woman Fleeing Family Under UN Care in Thailand


In this photo released by the Immigration Police, Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, right, walks with Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, Jan. 7, 2019.

Thai authorities says a young Saudi woman who was stopped in Thailand as she tried to flee to Australia to seek asylum has left the Bangkok airport and is under the care of the U.N. refugee agency.

"She is under the care of the UNHCR now but we also sent Thai security to help take care (of her)," the head of Thailand's Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn told reporters about the case of the woman, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun. He has said she will not be forcibly sent back to Saudi Arabia.

The 18-year-old fled from Kuwait during a family vacation and arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport Saturday night.

She had barricaded herself inside her airport hotel room and on Monday made several Twitter posts demanding she be allowed to meet with someone from the U.N.

In an earlier video post, Alqunun can be seen pacing inside the hotel room and saying, "I just want to survive."

"My family is strict and locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair. I am 100 percent certain they will kill me as soon as I get out of the Saudi jail," she said.

Following the announcement that she will not be forcibly sent back home, Alqunun tweeted that she felt safe "under UNHCR protection with the agreement of Thailand authorities."

The U.N. refugee agency said it would take about five to seven days for U.N. officials to evaluate her case.

Surachate told reporters, "Thailand is a land of smiles" and that, "We will not send anyone to die."

According to Surachate, Alqunun's father was expected to travel to Bangkok. He said Alqunun would be asked if she is willing to meet with her father.

Thai authorities had previously refused to let Alqunun into the country, saying she had no travel documents or money.

But Alqunun says Saudi and Kuwait officials took away her passport when she arrived -- a claim backed up by Human Rights Watch.

"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," Human Rights Watch deputy Middle East director Michael Page said.

He appealed to Saudi and Thai officials not to follow through with their initial plan to send Alqunun back to Kuwait on Monday.

"Saudi women fleeing their families can face severe violence from relatives, deprivation of liberty, and other serious harm if returned against their will," he said.

Women have few civil rights in the ultra-conservative Saudi kingdom. They need permission from a male relative to obtain a passport and travel overseas.

Women who commit so-called crimes against morality can sometimes meet the death penalty.

Another Saudi woman, Dina Lasloom, flew to the Philippines in 2017 while trying to escape Saudi Arabia.

An airline security official reported seeing her dragged out of the airport with her mouth, hands, and feet bound with duct tape.

Human rights activists have seen no trace of her since.