Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, an 18-year old Saudi woman who had barricaded herself in a room in Bangkok airport hotel to prevent Thai authorities from deporting her, has been placed "under the care" of the United Nations refugee agency, a Thai official said.
Rahaf had flown from Kuwait to Thailand on her way to Australia where she intended to seek asylum. After being stopped in Bangkok, Rahaf began posting her story on social media, sending out an appeal to "any country that would protect me from getting harmed or killed due to leaving my religion and torture from my family." Rahaf says her family are conservative muslims from Saudi Arabia who live in Kuwait.
— Sophie McNeill (@Sophiemcneill) January 7, 2019
Thailand's police officials initially said that Rahaf would be returned to Kuwait after they got access to her. However, with international attention brewing with Rahaf’s appeal to UN authorities Thai officials have decided on another course. On Monday evening they announced that Rahaf would instead be released from the airport into the protection of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). "She is now under the sovereignty of Thailand. No one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere. We will protect her as best as we can," the Thai immigration chief told a news conference Monday.
"We will talk to her and do whatever she requests. Since she escaped trouble to seek our help, we are the Land of Smiles, we will not send anyone to their death. We won't do that, we will adhere to the human rights principles under the rule of law."
Rahaf was escorted out of the hotel at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport through the backdoor after she was met with UNHCR staff. In a statement, UNHCR said it would "assess her need for international refugee protection and find an immediate solution for her situation."
Thai officials also revealed that Rahaf had told them that apart from her family she was also escaping an arranged marriage as she entered Thailand. Rahaf’s case has also been noted by Human Rights Watch which released a statement asking Thai authorities to aid Rahaf. "Saudi women fleeing their families can face severe violence from relatives, deprivation of liberty, and other serious harm if returned against their will," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Thai authorities should immediately halt any deportation, and either allow her to continue her travel to Australia or permit her to remain in Thailand to seek protection as a refugee."