A Saudi woman being held at Bangkok airport will be sent back Monday, Thai authorities said, after she made a desperate plea for asylum and for other passengers to help protest her deportation.
The incident comes against the backdrop of intense scrutiny of Saudi Arabia over its investigation and handling of the shocking murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, which has renewed criticism of the kingdom’s rights record.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun told AFP she ran away from her family while travelling in Kuwait because they subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.
The 18-year-old said she had planned to travel to Australia and seek asylum there, and feared she would be killed if she was repatriated by Thai immigration officials who stopped her during transit on Sunday.
Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said that Qunun was currently “waiting for boarding, our immigration officer and Saudi Arabian embassy officials are with her”.
“She bought the ticket herself yesterday, she is waiting to board (the flight to) Saudi Arabia,” he said of the Kuwait Airways flight to Kuwait due to depart at 11:15 am (0415 GMT).
Asked if she was seeking asylum, he said “we do not know but if anyone wants to seek asylum, they have to wait for those countries to reply”.
Qunun said she was stopped by Saudi and Kuwaiti officials when she arrived at the Thai capital’s Suvarnabhumi airport and her travel document was forcibly taken from her, a claim backed by Human Rights Watch.
“I ask the… government of Thailand… 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, Qunun posted a plea for people within “the transit area in Bangkok to protest against deporting me”.
“Please I need u all,” she wrote. “I’m shouting out for help of humanity.”
In a sign of growing desperation during the night, Qunun posted video of her barricading her hotel room door with furniture.
If sent back, she said she will likely be imprisoned, and is “sure 100 percent” her family will kill her, she told AFP.
A senior Thai immigration official said Sunday that Qunun was denied entry because she lacked “further documents such as return ticket or money”, and Thailand had contacted the “Saudi Arabia embassy to coordinate”.