Asylum assessment of Saudi teenager in Thailand to take days

A Saudi woman held at Suvarnabhumi airport in Thailand said she would be killed if she was repatriated by Thai immigration officials. — Reuters pic

She 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 HRW.

The United Nations' refugee agency says it has been in contact with the young Saudi woman who is trapped in Bangkok en route to seeking asylum in Australia after claiming to have fled her family fearing for her life.

The embassy - and Thai officials - earlier also said that Alqunun was stopped by Thai authorities in Bangkok because she did not have a return ticket, a hotel reservation or itinerary to show she was a tourist, which appeared to have raised a red flag about the reasons for her trip.

"I cannot flee the airport, I've tried but couldn't".

"They will kill me", she said. She later barricaded herself in the hotel room, blocking the door with a mattress. "I want asylum", al-Qunun added.

"Angkhana Neelapaijit, a National Human Rights Commissioner, said al-Qunun must be allowed to meet with UNHCR officials to determine if she warrants asylum status". However, Surachet Hakpal, chief of the Immigration Bureau, later confirmed to CNN that the teenager did not board the flight as planned.

The flight left Bangkok without her.

With the help of human rights advocates, she posted videos and launched a social media campaign to raise awareness to her plight.

HRW's Australian director Elaine Pearson said since Australia has expressed concern in the past about women's rights in Saudi Arabia, it should "come forward and offer protection for this young woman".

"UNHCR consistently advocates that refugees and asylum seekers-having been confirmed or claimed to be in need of worldwide protection-cannot be returned to their countries of origin according to the principle of non-refoulement", she wrote on Twitter.

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Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun ran away from home over claims her parents beat her, locked her away for months and threatened her - just for cutting her hair. "She won't be sent anywhere tonight", Surachate said at a news conference at the airport where Alqunun is stuck.

Ms Qunun said she was being held at an airport hotel by diplomatic and airline staff, despite having a visa to travel to Australia. Ms Rahaf said her family was powerful in Saudi society but she did not identify them.Saudi culture and guardianship policy requires women to have permission from a male relative to work, travel, marry, and even get some medical treatment.

Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn said Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun will be allowed to meet United Nations refugee officials. Then Thai authorities said she didn't meet the requirements for a Thai visa.

"In order to enter our country, she must comply with our regulations ..."

What happens to women forced back to Saudi Arabia? "We will not do that", he said.

In addition to facing punishment for "moral" crimes, women can also become the target of "honour killings" at the hands of their families, activists say.

Thai immigration police chief Surachate Hakparn said he had been tipped off about Alqunun by Saudi officials who said she was a runaway, reported BBC.

Although Thai immigration officials initially attempted to return the young women to her family in the Middle East, they have since vowed to allow her to stay. He said the Saudi Embassy has no authority to stop anyone at the airport and that such a decision would rest with Thai officials.

For runaway Saudi women, fleeing can be a matter of life and death, and they are nearly always trying to escape male relatives. Shuaibi denied that the embassy had withdrawn her passport.

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