Thai government on Monday conferred with the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) and decided not to repatriate a Saudi teen, who had arrived in Thailand on January 5 to escape an abusive and oppressive family life in Saudi Arabia.
Rahaf Mohammad al-
Thai immigration officials, who had planned to put her on an 11:15 am
“We will take her into Bangkok and provide her with safe shelter under the care of the UNHCR,” Thai immigration minister Surachate
Here’s what happened
Headed for Australia to seek asylum, Qunun planned to stay in Thailand for a few days. Thai officials confiscated her travel documents and even tried to put her on a flight back to the Middle East. Following this, she sought refuge in a hotel in the airport’s transit area, from where she sent out desperate pleas for help over social media, even asking for asylum in Thailand.
Hakparn had initially told AFP that Qunun was “running away from her family to avoid marriage” and that his department would cooperate with the Saudi embassy to send her back as it was a “family problem”.
Qunun’s tweets painted a far more harrowing picture of how her conservative family physically and
“They will kill me because I fled and because I announced my atheism,” she told the New York Times, adding, “They wanted me to pray and to wear a veil, and I didn’t want to.” “My life is in danger. My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things,” she told Reuters via text and audio messages.
“They won’t let me drive or travel. I am oppressed. I love life and work and I am very ambitious but my family is preventing me from living,” she wrote in a series of tweets which made a splash all over social media. She told Human Rights Watch of being beaten and receiving death threats from male relatives who forced her to remain in her room for six months for cutting her hair.
International support for Qunun
Several users helped translate her tweets and spread the word about her father being a governor in Saudi Arabia which further underscored the danger she was in.
Meanwhile, advocacy group Human Rights Watch issued a statement saying that the Thai government was obligated to provide
UNHCR’s statement clarified that the international law refers to “non-refoulement” that prevents states from expelling or returning persons to a territory where their life or freedom would be threatened.
A group of Thai lawyers also filed an injunction to stop her deportation on Monday. Soon after a Bangkok court declined to issue the injunction, Thailand announced it wouldn’t send
Saudi Arabia and women’s rights
The case has renewed global scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s patriarchal norms and the kingdom’s guardianship rules which limit women’s freedoms to move about, study, marry, and own property. An adult woman in Saudi Arabia is to seek permission of her husband, father or a male family member who acts as her guardian or custodian, to be able to travel out of the country. Rights groups say this often traps women and girls as prisoners in abusive families.
Qunun’s is not a singular case. This is not the first time that a Saudi citizen has fled the country attempting to seek asylum in Australia. In 2017, Dina Ali Lasloom embarked on her flight from Kuwait to
Last year, another young woman fleeing the restrictive and repressive life in Saudi Arabia had garnered global attention. In March 2018, princess Sheikha Latifa, daughter of Dubai’s ruler, recorded a video citing the abuses she experienced by her family before attempting an escape. The yacht she was traveling on was intercepted by the Indian Coast Guard and United Arab Emirate officials in the Indian Ocean, and she was returned to her family, disappearing from sight for months. A photograph of her meeting with former Irish Prime Minister resurfaced after human rights watchdogs sought proof from the country’s authorities that she was safe back at home.
Saudi Arabia has, of late, tried to promote a more progressive bent of mind by organising Riyadh fashion week, reopening theatres, and lifting the driving ban on women. However these superficial measures have not fooled the world, which is constantly reminded by ordeals such as Qunun’s, that women’s liberation all over the world has left the Saudi kingdom untouched.
Hundred of women’s rights activists, rebels, artists and journalists continue to languish in Saudi jails or are persecuted for speaking out against the atrocities against them. In the absence of adequate reform in the state or solidarity from families, women are left with the escape route, which also rarely works in their
Saudi Arabia often uses its wealth and contacts to exert diplomatic influence on the countries that women escape to, lest their successful flight should set an example for others.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.