Thai immigration lets Saudi teenager stay

World | Agence France-Presse 8 Jan 2019

A Saudi woman who made a desperate plea for asylum after arriving at Bangkok airport will not be forcibly deported, a Thai immigration official said yesterday.

"If she does not want to leave, we will not force her," said immigration chief Surachate Hakparn at a press conference at Suvarnabhumi airport, adding the UN refugee agency will be meeting her.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun said she ran away from her family while traveling in Kuwait because they subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

The 18-year-old said she planned to travel to Australia and seek asylum there, and feared she would be killed if repatriated.

Qunun said she was stopped by Saudi and Kuwaiti officials when she arrived in Bangkok on Sunday and that her travel document was forcibly taken.

Abdulilah al-Shouaibi, charge d'affaires at the Saudi embassy in Bangkok, acknowledged in an interview with Saudi-owned channel Rotana Khalijial that the woman's father contacted the diplomatic mission for "help" to bring her back.

But he denied that her passport had been seized and that embassy officials were present inside the airport. In a sign of growing desperation during the night, Qunun posted a video of her barricading her hotel room door.

If sent back, she said she will likely be imprisoned, and is "sure 100 percent" her family will kill her.

Immigration chief Surachate said Qunun was denied entry because she lacked "further documents such as return ticket or money," and Thailand contacted the "Saudi Arabia embassy to coordinate."

Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement from its Bangkok embassy, disputing her account.

"Her passport was not impounded by the Saudi embassy," adding she was stopped by Thai authorities for "violating the law."

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