Monday, January 7, 2019
An 18-year-old Saudi woman who barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to prevent her forcible return to a family she claims will kill her, has been taken under the protection of the UN high commissioner for refugees in Thailand.
The Australian government said on Monday night Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun’s situation was “deeply concerning” and it had lobbied the Thai government and the UNHCR to allow her to formally claim asylum.
She demanded access to the UNHCR and barricaded herself inside her hotel room in fear she would be forced on to a plane after Kuwait Airways officials had come to her door, but Monday’s 11.15am flight departed without her.
Qunun was detained on arrival at Bangkok and denied entry to Thailand while en route to Australia, where she said she intended to seek asylum. The Guardian confirmed on Monday Qunun had a valid three-month tourist visa for Australia, issued to her Saudi passport. Qunun said she was abducted after arriving in Bangkok and had her passport confiscated by Saudi Arabian diplomatic staff.
The head of Thailand’s immigration police, General Surachate Hakparn, had previously said Qunun would be sent back to Saudi Arabia because she was “unsafe” without a guardian in Thailand, and claimed she did not have the documentation to go on to Australia.
But late on Monday he promised she would not be deported and agreed to consult the UNCHR. He later said she had been taken to a safe house for her asylum claim to be processed.
“If she goes home it will be dangerous for her so Thailand is ready to help,” he told media. “We are working with the foreign affairs ministry and UNHCR and today we will allow her entry to Thailand. UNHCR is now taking care of her and working on her asylum claim.”
Surachate said Qunun’s father was due to arrive in Bangkok on Monday night and that officials would establish whether she wanted to return to the Middle East with him. “As of now, she does not wish to go back and we will not force her. She won’t be sent anywhere tonight,” he told reporters. “Thailand is a land of smiles. We will not send anyone to die.”
Qunun confirmed on Twitter she was under the protection of the UNHCR and her passport had been returned.
A spokeswoman for the UNHCR, Melissa Fleming, confirmed the organisation’s Bangkok protection team was meeting Qunun. “UNHCR has been following developments closely and immediately sought access from the Thai authorities to meet with Rahaf to assess her need for international protection,” she said. “UNHCR consistently advocates that refugees and asylum seekers – having been confirmed or claimed to be in need of international protection – cannot be returned to their country of origin according to the principle of non-refoulement.” She said the UNHCR could not comment on the outcome of the meeting, for confidentiality reasons.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs said it was monitoring the case closely.
“The claims made by Ms Al-Qunun that she may be harmed if returned to Saudi Arabia are deeply concerning,” a spokesman said on Monday night.
“The Australian embassy in Thailand has made representations to both the Thai government and the Bangkok office of the UNHCR to seek assurances that Ms Al-Qunun can access the UNHCR’s refugee status determination process in Thailand.”
Qunun said in a video posted on social media from inside the airport that she was trying to escape from her family because they subjected her to physical and psychological abuse. She has appealed for help from Europe, the US, Canada and Australia.
“I am Rahaf … I am in the hotel, I need a country to protect me as soon as possible. I am seeking asylum,” said Qunun, who fled Kuwait while her family was visiting the Gulf country. “My family is strict and locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair,” she said, adding that she was certain she would be imprisoned if sent back. “I’m sure, 100%, they will kill me as soon as I get out of the Saudi jail,” she said.
Her case has brought international attention to the obstacles women face in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom also faces intense scrutiny over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which has renewed criticism of its human rights record.A 20-year-old friend of Qunun, whom the Guardian has chosen not to name and who recently moved from Saudi Arabia to Australia, said the threats to her were real. “She’s ex-Muslim and has a very strict family. They’re using violence with her and she faced sexual harassment,” she said. “She received a threat from her cousin – he said he wants to see her blood, he wants to kill her.
“If they didn’t kill her they couldn’t go [around in] public after this [Qunun renouncing the Muslim faith], so they have to do it,” the friend said. “It’s like: if you’re a man you should prove it. If they don’t kill her they can’t go outside and see other men.”
Qunun’s friend has lived in Australia for three months, and said she was seeking asylum there after being abused in Saudi Arabia. She said she had known Qunun for a year, after connecting with her online. “She’s an activist, she’s a feminist,” she said. Sarah Hanson-Young, a Greens senator from South Australia, called on Australia to act quickly to issue Qunun with emergency travel documents.
The 18-year-old escaped to Thailand and barricaded herself in hotel room, demanding to speak to United Nations officials.
Rahaf Mohammad says her family will torture her if she returns to them
By Richard C. PaddockAn 18-year-old Saudi woman who expressed fear that she would be killed if sent back to her family was allowed to remain in Thailand on Monday evening, ending a tense 48-hour drama at Bangkok’s main international airport.
The young woman, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, was on the verge of being deported earlier in the day at the request of the Saudi government. But after she and human rights advocates mounted a global social media campaign, Thai immigration officials agreed not to send her home.
“Thailand is a land of smiles. We will not send someone back to die,” said the country’s immigration chief, Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn. “We will take care of her as best as we can.”
After meeting with Ms. Alqunun and officials from the United Nations refugee agency Monday afternoon, General Surachate said that Ms. Alqunun had been allowed to leave the airport with agency representatives. They will take up to 10 days to process her request for refugee status and find a country that will accept her.
Earlier in the day, she posted a short video from an airport hotel room in which she had barricaded herself, saying she would not leave without seeing United Nations officials. “I want asylum,” Ms. Alqunun said in a clear, calm voice.
Every woman in Saudi Arabia has a male “guardian,” typically a father, husband, brother or uncle. A woman must have permission from her guardian to do an array of things, including to travel, obtain a passport, marry or divorce.
King Salman relaxed some of the rules in 2017, allowing a woman, under some circumstances, to go to school, get a job, or rent an apartment without her guardian’s permission, but those changes are not always observed in practice. Women’s rights advocates say that the police often require a guardian’s permission for a woman to report a crime, making it all but impossible for her to report domestic abuse committed by her guardian.
Human Rights Watch has called the guardianship system “the most significant impediment to realizing women’s rights in the country, effectively rendering adult women legal minors.”
In a telephone interview with The New York Times, Ms. Alqunun said she had slipped away from her family on Saturday during a trip to Kuwait, where women are allowed to travel without a male guardian, and had flown on her own to Bangkok.
She said that she had planned to spend a few days in Thailand and continue to Australia, for which she had a visa, and that she planned to request asylum. But on arrival at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, she was intercepted by a man she identified as Saudi who said he would help her. Instead, he took her passport and brought over Thai immigration officials, who said they would send her back to Kuwait at her family’s request.
The deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, who played a crucial role in mobilizing support for Ms. Alqunun, said he was pleased with the results of the fast-paced campaign.Thousands of people called the United Nations refugee agency to express support for Ms. Alqunun, and ambassadors worked the phones to help find a solution, he said.
“Today really was a good day for the cause of human rights around the world, with Rahaf’s tremendous courage and resilience being met with a global surge of sympathy for her,” he said. “It all came together to persuade Thailand to do the right thing.” Thailand, which has been run by a military regime since 2014, is not a signatory to international agreements allowing travelers to seek asylum and was not bound to honor her asylum request.
Ms. Alqunun’s plight has attracted attention around the world. She opened a Twitter account over the weekend and already has tens of thousands of followers.
Ms. Alqunun told The Times that she had been planning her escape since she was 16. She said her brother and other family members often had beat her, and that she was once locked in a room for six months because she had cut her hair in a way disapproved by her family. “They will kill me because I fled and because I announced my atheism,” she said. “They wanted me to pray and to wear a veil, and I didn’t want to.”
General Surachate said that Ms. Alqunun was free to go wherever she wanted in Thailand and that there were no government restrictions on her now that she had entered the country.
She will be under the care of the United Nations refugee agency until her departure, he said.
“There are no conditions,” he said. “There’s no detention or control over her.”
He said officials initially had planned to deport Ms. Alqunun because of her lack of money and concrete travel plans.
“Once we heard the update on the situation, that she was in trouble, that it was life-threatening if she went back,” he said, “Thailand welcomed her.”
Hours after Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar ordered the government to remove the names of PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto and Chief Minister Sind Murad Ali Shah from the Exit Control List (ECL), Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari has said that the entire JIT report has been a farce & a waste of public money.Bakhtwar took to Twitter saying, “The entire JIT report has been a farce & a waste of public money & time in a deliberate attempt to distract and distort from the non performance of the selected PTI government.”
While hearing the Fake accounts case, a three-member bench headed by CJP Nisar directed the officials to delete paras regarding the PPP chairman and Sindh CM from the report prepared by the Joint Investigation Team.https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/415866-bakhtawar-bhutto-says-entire-jit-report-is-farce-and-waste-of-public-money