An 18-year-old Saudi woman who said she fled her violent family and asked for asylum, managed to avoid a flight back to the Middle East by barricading herself in her hotel room and was entrusted to staff of the United Nations Refugee Agency in Thailand on Monday.
Rafah Mohammed al Qunun blocked the door of his hotel room located in Bangkok, Thailand's main international airport, and tweeted his desperate request for asylum almost in real time. She avoided taking a scheduled flight to Kuwait, where her family was waiting, said Monday the deputy director of Human Rights Watch for Asia, Phil Robertson.
Earlier, Robertson tweeted a short video of al-Qunun in his room, saying simply, "I will not leave my room until I see the UNHCR. I want an asylum. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also known as the United Nations Refugee Agency.
The head of the Thai Immigration Police later said that al-Qunun would not be sent anywhere against his will.
"We will take him to Bangkok and we will provide him with a safe shelter under the supervision of UNHCR," General Surachate Hakparn told reporters.
UNHCR staff met al-Qunun at the hotel, according to the agency's communications officer, Melissa Fleming, who said on her own Twitter account that representatives had spoken to al-Qunun, " to assess its need for international refugee protection and to find an immediate solution to its situation. "
The UNHCR said it would not disclose any additional details regarding its meeting with Al-Qunun for fear of his privacy.
The young Saudi woman is telling herself on Twitter, before the photos show her coming out of her hotel room, that her passport had been returned to her and that she was with UN officials. .
Robertson, of HRW, had previously told CBS News that the Thai government was preventing the UNHCR team at the airport from seeing al-Qunun, saying that there was clear coordination between the Thai government and the Saudis on the case of al-Qunun.
Later, Robertson tweeted that Thai lawyers had filed an application for an injunction with the Bangkok Criminal Court to "prevent the deportation of #Rahaf at #Kuwait. The court should quickly consider the fact that time is running out and that it runs the risk of being fired #Thailand. Will Thailand Respect the Rule of Law? #SaveRahaf. "
According to the Associated Press, a few hours later, the court had dismissed the injunction, according to a statement posted on Facebook by the NPS law firm. NPS said the application had been rejected by the court because of a lack of evidence to substantiate the young woman's claims and prove her identity.
The incident comes in the midst of a close examination of Saudi Arabia about his investigation and the management of the Shocking assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, who again criticized the kingdom 's human rights record.
Former CIA member on Kushner, the Saudis and Khashoggi
A plan to escape
Al-Qunun told the French news agency AFP that she had run away from her family while she was traveling to Kuwait because she had submitted her to him. physical and psychological abuse.
She added that she was planning to go to Australia to seek asylum and feared to be killed if she were repatriated by Thai immigration agents, who arrested her at the same time. transit Sunday.
Al-Qunun said she was arrested by Saudi and Kuwaiti officials on her arrival at Suvarnabhumi Airport in the Thai capital and her travel document was forcibly confiscated from her, which is a affirmation supported by Human Rights Watch.
"I ask the … Thai government … to stop my deportation to Kuwait," she said on Twitter. "I ask the police in Thailand to start my asylum process."
Shortly before the scheduled departure late Monday morning, local time, Al-Qunun issued a call to the people "in the transit zone of Bangkok to protest against my deportation".
"Please, I need all of you," she writes. "I cry for the help of humanity."
Barricaded in his room
As a sign of increasing despair during the night, al-Qunun posted a video of herself barricading the door of her hotel room with furniture.
If she is fired, she says that she will probably be jailed and that she is "100% sure" that her family will kill her, she told AFP.
"Given Saudi Arabia's long experience of looking on the other side in so-called incidents of violence of honor, her concern about whether she could be killed if she was fired can not to be ignored, "Robertson told AFP.
Fleming, of the UNHCR, said on Twitter that under widely accepted international law and treaties to which Thailand was a party, asylum seekers can not be returned to their country of origin if their life or their well-being is considered threatened, a so-called principle of non-refoulement. .
The ultra-conservative Saudi kingdom has long been criticized for imposing on women some of the most severe restrictions in the world.
This includes a guardianship system that allows men to exercise arbitrary authority to make decisions on behalf of their relatives.
In addition to facing punishments for "moral" crimes, women may become targets of "honor killings" on the part of their families, activists say.
Abdulilah al-Shouaibi, who is in charge of business at the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok, acknowledged in an interview with Saudi TV channel Rotana Khalijial that the woman's father had contacted the diplomatic mission to obtain of "help" to bring it back.
But he denied that his passport was seized and that representatives of the embassy were present inside the airport.
Saudi Arabia is hotly criticized for the murder of dissident journalist Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October – a case that has shocked the world.
Another Saudi woman, Dina Ali Lasloom, was arrested in transit in the Philippines in April 2017 when she tried to flee her family.
Another case of refugee stuck in Thailand
Al-Qunun is now the second citizen of an Arab country to find himself trapped in Thailand and to beg the mercy of the international community to avoid being sent home.
Hakeem al-Araibi, a semi-professional footballer from Bahrain who had already obtained asylum and who was living as a refugee in Australia, was arrested at Bangkok airport on November 27 and has since been imprisoned pending Thailand's consideration of Bahrain's request for extradition.
Hakeem al-Araibi (C), former footballer of Bahrain's national refugee status team in Australia, is escorted by immigration police to a court in Bangkok on 11 December 2018.
Al-Araibi fears being tortured if returned to Bahrain. Australia granted him refugee status and his residence in 2017, and the Australian government called for his return to his country of adoption.
The Sunni Muslim family in power in Bahrain, facing accusations similar to those of Saudi leaders over the suppression of dissent and Shia Muslim citizens, wants his home to be extradited by al-Araibi for a ten-year sentence. years of imprisonment pronounced in absentia in 2014 for vandalism of a police station.
Al-Araibi said that he was playing for the Bahraini national team outside the country the day the police station was vandalized and that he was really wanted for his criticism on the royal family, the political militancy of his brother and his Shiite faith.
He also claimed to have been beaten by the Bahraini authorities during a previous detention in his home country in 2012.
Thailand initially arrested the football player at the airport following a red notice issued by the Interpol World Police Agency, at the request of Bahrain. However, this opinion – which appeared to violate Interpol's own rules on the issuance of warrants granted to immobile persons – at the request of their home country – would have been abandoned.
On December 11, however, a Thai court rejected Al-Araibi's bail application and said he could be held in detention for 60 days pending the official extradition request. from Bahrain. He remains imprisoned in the meantime.