'They will kill me'
An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family and barricaded herself inside a Bangkok airport hotel to prevent being expelled by Thai authorities has left the airport after talks with the United Nations refugee agency, an official said yesterday.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun has been at Bangkok's international airport since Saturday when she arrived from Kuwait, saying she fears her family will kill her if she is forced to return home. Her relatives have not commented on her accusations of abuse and Reuters was not able to reach them.
The case has drawn new global attention to Saudi Arabia's strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male "guardian" to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.
It comes at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of a journalist at its consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.
Thai immigration officials had planned to put Qunun on a flight back to Kuwait yesterday, but relented after her online pleas drew international attention.
She told Reuters via text and audio messages she had fled Kuwait during a family visit there, and had planned to travel to Australia to seek asylum. She said she was held after leaving her plane in Bangkok and told she would be sent back to Kuwait.
"They will kill me," Qunun told Reuters. "My life is in danger. My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things."
A representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) met Qunun at the airport and also discussed the case with Thai immigration officials. After the meeting, Thailand's immigration chief said she would not be expelled.
"We will take her into Bangkok and provide her with safe shelter under the care of the UNHCR," immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters yesterday evening.