Saudi Woman Held in Bangkok Airport Says She Will Die If Deported

Saudi Woman Held in Bangkok Airport Says She Will Die If Deported
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18-year-old Rahaf Mohammad al-Qunun says her family will kill her if she is sent back to Kuwait.

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By Eli Meixler

A Saudi Arabian woman who fled her family to seek asylum is facing deportation against her will to Kuwait, where she fears domestic violence and possibly death, rights groups warned.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, was stopped in Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok on Jan. 5 while attempting to fly from Kuwait to Australia. Rahaf claimed to have a visa for Australia and planned to apply for asylum, according to the Associated Press.

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Credit: Reuters / Athit Perawongmetha
A hotel inside the transit area at Suvarnabhumi Airport where Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her family, has barricaded herself inside a room in Bangkok, Jan. 7, 2019.

But her passport was reportedly confiscated by a representative from Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Thailand, and she has been held in an airport hotel while awaiting a return on Monday to Kuwait, where she fears her family may torture or even kill her after she renounced Islam.

In a statement, the Saudi embassy denied seizing Alqunun’s passport and said she was detained because she did not have a return ticket, the BBC reports.

In a series of videos and more than 100 tweets beginning late on Jan. 6, Alqunun implored the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and countries including Australia the U.S., Canada and the UK for assistance. A Change.org petition supporting her garnered thousands of signatures in just a few hours, and the German ambassador to Thailand expressed “great concern.”

Alqunun says she has previously faced domestic abuse by male family members including beatings and death threats. She also said she was once detained in a bedroom for six months after she cut her hair, according to Human Rights Watch.

“She’s very afraid,” Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson told TIME by phone on Monday. “It’s very clear if she’s sent back, her family will kill her.”

Alqunun was expected to be on a Kuwait Airways flight at 11:15 a.m. local time Monday, but she has barricaded herself in her hotel room, and in a brief video message demanded to speak with the U.N. refugee agency. The flight departed at 11:39 a.m., according to Flightradar24. Alqunun is believed to have not been on board.

Under Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system, women are required to seek permission from a male family member to travel abroad, marry and work, among other restrictions, according to Human Rights Watch. On Sunday, the country’s justice ministry approved a new measure that would allow women to be informed of divorce by text message, ending a practice whereby men could “secretly” divorce their wives without informing them.

Read Next: The US Is Deporting Cambodian Immigrants to a Land They've Never Known

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TNL Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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