A Saudi teenager who ran from her family, claiming she had been abused, will be allowed to stay in Thailand while her case is investigated by the United Nations' refugee agency (UNHCR), immigration officials announced Monday.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, captured an international spotlight after she pleaded on social media for help in seeking asylum, saying her life would be in danger if she was sent back to Kuwait, where she had slipped away from her family during a trip there and boarded a flight to Bangkok.
She has been granted a temporary stay in the Southeast Asian country, under the protection of the UNHCR, which will spend about a week processing her asylum claim. She said she wants to seek residency in Australia.
“We will not send anyone to die. We will not do that. We will adhere to human rights under the rule of law,” said Immigration Police chief Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, according to The Associated Press.
Alqunun's circumstance is similar to other Saudi women who have used social media trying to escape abusive relatives and other problems in the extremely conservative nation.
She tweeted Monday she felt safe under the protection of the U.N. and that her passport had been returned to her. She had barricaded herself in a transit hotel room at the Bangkok airport after she said officials told her she would be put on a flight back to Kuwait. She alternately referred to those people as Saudi diplomats or employees of Kuwait Airways, the AP reported.
Saudi Arabian authorities denied being involved.
Her father was scheduled to arrive Monday night, and Thai officials said they would ask if she was willing to meet 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,” Surachate said at a news conference.
“She fled hardship. Thailand is a land of smiles,” he said.
She apparently took advantage of being in Kuwait to make her escape. In Saudi Arabia, women cannot travel outside the country without permission from a male family member.
She said she had recently rejected Islam and was afraid she might be killed for that, according to Thai authorities.