The head of Thailand’s immigration police said Monday that an 18-year-old Saudi woman was detained by Saudi officials at a Bangkok airport, as she attempted to reach Australia to seek asylum.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, remained barricaded in a tiny airport hotel room Monday while sending out dozens of tweets for help.
Alqunun began tweeting late Saturday after her passport was confiscated at Bangkok airport on a flight from Kuwait.
I’m the girl who run away from Kuwait to Thailand. I’m in real danger because the Saudi embassy trying to forcing me to go back to Saudi Arabia, while I’m at the airport waiting for my second flight.— Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد القنون (@rahaf84427714) January 5, 2019
سأقوم الان بنشر احد الأدلة التي املكها على احتجازي قسراً، رغماً عني بالرغم من كوني إنسانه بالغه لم ترتكب أي جريمة، واحتجازهم لجواز سفري قسراً، بدون موافقتي pic.twitter.com/eyINhODJpa— Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد القنون (@rahaf84427714) January 6, 2019
This is a copy of my passport, Im shering it with you now because I want you to know I’m real and exist. pic.twitter.com/6yzVyFifp7— Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد القنون (@rahaf84427714) January 6, 2019
I'm still in the hotel room inside the airport! pic.twitter.com/8J931g9yQs— Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد القنون (@rahaf84427714) January 6, 2019
On Sunday, she pleaded for refugee status from the United Nations refugee agency and anyone else who could help, said AP.
Video from @rahaf84427714 just sent from her hotel room at the #Bangkok airport. She has barricaded herself in the room & says she will not leave until she is able to see #UNHCR. Why is #Thailand not letting @Refugees see her for refugee status determination? @hrw #SaveRahaf pic.twitter.com/3lb2NDRsVG— Phil Robertson (@Reaproy) January 7, 2019
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees published a statement Monday morning saying it was closely following the case and would assess Alqunun's need for international protection.
The Thai authorities have granted UNHCR access to Saudi national, Rahaf Mohammed Al-qunun, at Bangkok airport to assess her need for international refugee protection and find an immediate solution for her situation.— UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) January 7, 2019
Our statement: https://t.co/FVVGdUmHMu
Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, the chief of Thailand's Immigration Police, said Monday that Alqunun would not be transferred anywhere against her will.
On Twitter, where Alqunun's following base has rapidly increased in the last several days, alleges that she is in "real danger" if forced to return to her family under pressure from Saudi authorities and had claimed in media interviews that she could be killed.
Alqunun told Human Rights Watch she fled the constant abuse from her family, including regular beatings and death threats from her male relatives who forced her to remain in her room for six months.
Asked why she was seeking refuge in Australia, she said: "Physical, emotional and verbal abuse and being imprisoned inside the house for months. They threaten to kill me and prevent me from continuing my education."
Alqunun added: "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."
Australian Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said on Monday that her country would do everything they could to assist the young women with safe passage.
“Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun fears for her life and is facing deportation to Saudi Arabia, but we can help. We understand she has a visa and needs emergency travel documents to be brought safely here,” Hanson-Young said in a statement.
“I have called on the Liberal Government to act urgently to ensure Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun has safe travel to Australia. She has denounced Islam and is fleeing a forced marriage."
Alqunun has used Twitter to publicize her unique situation. In the last several days, she has shared countless pictures and videos of the room she is detained in, and of the men guarding her door.
She reached out to major media outlets, who have shared her story on their social media channels.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, shared one such video on Monday where Alqunun claimed men were outside her hotel room door, while she waited for a meeting with the UN refugee agency.
I wil still here until UN helps me https://t.co/HUFiSodcFC— Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد القنون (@rahaf84427714) January 7, 2019
Young Saudi women runaways have increasingly turned to social media to amplify their calls for help.
Two years ago, Dina Lasloom triggered a social media firestorm when she was stopped en route to Australia where she planned to seek asylum. She was forced to return to Saudi Arabia and has not been heard from since.
*This story is still developing...