Thailand: Saudi woman fleeing family given United Nations protection

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Saudi Arabia's charge d'affaires in Bangkok, Abdullah al-Shuaibi, was quoted in Saudi media as saying that Alqunun was stopped by Thai authorities because she did not appear to have a return ticket, a hotel reservation or itinerary to show she was a tourist.

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.

After a lengthy stand-off, Alqunun's claim for protection is being processed by the UNHCR in Thailand where she is staying under the organisation's protection.

UNHCR has been following developments closely and immediately sought access from the Thai authorities to meet with Ms. Mohammed Al-qunun, 18, to assess her need for worldwide protection.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also urged Thai authorities to block the deportation and allow al-Qunun to make her case through the Bangkok office of the UNHCR and to respect its decision.

The Australian government said it was "pleased" Alqunun's claim would be processed by the UNHCR amid a report that Australia was preparing to offer her a humanitarian visa once her application was processed.

She was eventually granted access to U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees officials and left the hotel under their care.

Thai immigration authorities said Ms Qunun was refused entry because she did not have the proper documents. "They need to go to the airport". "My father just arrived as I heard witch [sic] anxious and scared me a lot and I want to go to another country that I seek asylum in".

On Tuesday morning she retweeted her original appeal for asylum, adding in a subsequent tweet: "I want Canada to give me asylum". "Finally, I regained my passport".

Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch's Asia deputy director told the British newspaper that the young woman's story should be believed.

"She is now under the sovereignty of Thailand; no-one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere. We are simply performing our duties" he said.

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"Saudi news said I was living in Kuwait, but that's wrong I live in Saudi Arabia and this is the proof", she tweeted.

Saudi Arabia's parlous rights record has been under heavy scrutiny since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi previous year. "The embassy considers this issue a family matter", it said in a post on Twitter.

A Saudi Arabian teen defector used cries for help on social media to avoid being deported back to her family after being held up in Thailand on her way to Australia.

Photos released on Monday night by immigration police showed Ms Alqunun with Thai and United Nations officials after she left the airport transit hotel room where she had been holed up over the weekend, sending her pleas for help on her Twitter account.

"If she prefers to travel to Australia, we will coordinate with the (Australian) embassy for her".

But denied entry on arrival at Bangkok's main airport this weekend she took to Twitter with an account apparently created as a crisis response route and managed by her and supporters.

Asked why she was seeking refuge in Australia, she said: "Physical, emotional and verbal abuse and being imprisoned inside the house for months". And she said her family used to beat her, mostly her brother.

"When I landed at the airport, someone came and said he would process the (Thai) visa, but he took my passport".

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. He said it was "too early to tell" if she will be granted asylum or refugee status. A spokesman for Kuwait Airways said he had no information about the case. "This should be the standard for any individual who claims that his or her life is in danger". "My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things".

"They wont 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".

Alqunun's plight mirrors that of other Saudi women who in recent years have turned to social media to amplify their calls for help while trying to flee abusive families and other obstacles they face in the conservative kingdom. Saudi activists say the kingdom, through its embassies overseas, has at times put pressure on border patrol agents in foreign countries to deport the women back to Saudi Arabia.

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