Thailand to give Saudi teen refuge

Thailand says it will protect Saudi fugitive Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who said she fled from her family during a visit to Kuwait to avoid further physical and psychological abuse.

The 18-year-old said she hoped to seek asylum in Australia and feared death if she was repatriated by the Thai immigration who stopped her during her transit stop in Bangkok.

The young Saudi woman said she was locked up by her family for half a year for refusing a forced marriage.

The murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year has renewed criticism of Riyadh’s rights record.

Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said Qunun was denied entry to the kingdom because of her lack of documentation only to U-turn amid mounting social-media criticism.

The teenager pleaded on Twitter for different countries to help avoid deportation.

Thailand would “not force her” to leave, Surachate said on Monday and that Qunun would be “allowed to stay” after meeting representatives of the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR.

“She is under the care of the UNHCR now but we also sent Thai security to help take care,” Surachate announced.

Qunun “wants to stay in Thailand for a while to seek asylum in a third country”, according to the UNHCR.

Surachate said he would meet Saudi representatives today (Tuesday) to explain the Thai position.

After the announcement, Qunun tweeted that she was “under UNHCR protection with the agreement of Thailand authorities”, adding that her passport had finally been returned after being confiscated on Sunday.

“Thailand is a land of smiles. We will not send anyone to die,” he said. “We will take care of her as best as we can.”

In April 2017, Saudi citizen Dina Lasloom was arrested at Manila’s airport as she looked to avoid a forced marriage.

She was deported to Saudi Arabia the next day and has not been heard from since.

Bloomberg reported that Saudi sources said she was in a women’s prison while Saudi rights activist Moudi Aljohani said Lasloom was probably dead.

HRW West Asia specialist Adam Coogle said: “We have documented several such cases over the years. Again and again, women in Saudi Arabia are mistreated and denied a self-determined life because the male members of their family want to be in control.”

Saudi Arabia often operates ahead of the NGOs and states where the women seek refuge, as Saudi money, influence and contacts can ensure dissidents are detained.

Women looking to reach the EU were often more successful, Coogle said, than some of the women who tried to escape to Australia, because Saudi influence extended to transit stops in Asean.

Saudi women suffer from discrimination. Picture credit: Flickr