“I Want to Be Free”, Says Runaway Saudi Woman

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunum with Thai security officials       Pix: EPA/THAI IMMIGRATION BUREAU


An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family at the weekend has left Bangkok airport “under the care” of the UN refugee agency, the head of Thailand’s immigration police says.

Thai immigration officials had tried to return Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, to Kuwait, where her family is.

But she refused to board a flight on Monday and barricaded herself into her airport hotel room.

She said she feared her family would kill her as she had renounced Islam.

“My brothers and family and the Saudi embassy will be waiting for me in Kuwait,” Ms Mohammed al-Qunun told Reuters.

“My life is in danger. My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things.”

Her relatives have not commented on her claims.

Rights groups including Human Rights Watch have expressed grave concerns for Ms Mohammed al-Qunun, who had travelled to Thailand for a connecting flight to Australia, where she hoped to seek asylum.

The Thai authorities said her status would be assessed by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

On Monday evening local time, Thailand’s chief of immigration police Surachate Hakparn confirmed that Ms Mohammed al-Qunun was “allowed to stay”, and that she “left the airport with the UNHCR”.

He earlier said the country would “take care of her as best we can”, adding: “She is now under the sovereignty of Thailand; no-one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere.

“Thailand is a land of smiles. We will not send anyone to die.”

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun drew attention to her plight through social media posts over the weekend. She also gave a friend, Noura, access to her Twitter account, saying it was in case anything should happen to her.

“I shared my story and my pictures on social media and my father is so angry because I did this… I can’t study and work in my country, so I want to be free and study and work as I want,” she said.

The BBC World Service spoke to Noura, the friend who is tweeting from Ms Mohammed al-Qunun’s account. She said the pair knew each other from an online group for Saudi feminists, and that she herself had “escaped” Saudi Arabia because she is “an ex-Muslim”.

Noura says Ms Mohammed al-Qunun is a student at a Saudi university, and that she believes her father works for the Saudi government.

“Her family kept her alone in the house for – I think for more than six months – because she cut her hair,” she told the BBC.

Noura said she was speaking to Ms Mohammed al-Qunun “every 20 minutes”, adding: “She is terrified.”



BBC reports