Bangkok: The office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Tuesday said it was probing the case of an 18-year-old Saudi woman detained at the Bangkok airport amid claims that she was being forced to return to her family after fleeing from them to avoid a forced marriage.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who arrived in Bangkok on Saturday on her way to Australia, was on the verge of being deported to Kuwait on Monday, but she barricaded herself in a hotel room at the airport until she was granted a temporary stay in Thailand under the protection of the UNHCR.
“It could take several days to process the case and determine next steps. For reasons of protection and confidentiality, we are not in a position to comment on the details of individual cases,” UNHCR’s Representative in Thailand Giuseppe de Vincentiis said in a statement cited by Efe news.
The UN refugee agency advocates that refugees and asylum seekers — having been confirmed or claimed to be in need of international protection — cannot be returned to their countries of origin according to the principle of non-refoulement, the statement added.
The principle, which prohibits the return of a person to his or her state of origin or another state where there is a risk to his or her life or freedom, is recognized in international laws and other agreements signed by Thailand.
Al-Qunun arrived at the Bangkok airport after fleeing her family on a trip to Kuwait, which does not require females to get the authorization of a male relative to leave the country.
She was on her way to Australia, where she intended to seek asylum after receiving alleged death threats from her family.
However, the young woman said an employee of the Kuwait Airways airline confiscated her passport and told her that at the request of the Saudi Arabian embassy she would be forced to board a flight back to Kuwait, where her relatives were waiting for her.
When she refused and appealed to Thai immigration officials, she was escorted to a transit hotel. She later barricaded herself in the hotel room, blocking the door with a mattress.
Meanwhile, the Saudi Arabian embassy in Thailand denied in a statement that it had seized al-her passport or tried to detain her at the airport in order to deport her.
In April 2007, another Saudi woman fleeing her family was forced to return to her country while she was in transit in the Philippines.