Saudi Arabian Woman Trying To Flee From Family Given Protection Under UNHCR
January 8th, 2019 / 12:17 PM
Image Credit: AlQunun Rahaf Mohammed/ Facebook
An 18-year-old Saudi girl who has been held in the Bangkok airport for trying to flee the country from her abusive family says she might be killed if she is returned to them. After she posted her story online and asked for help for different countries, a global outcry over her condition ensured that she was not detained at Bangkok and handed over to her family. She is right now under the care of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The United Nations (UN) has said that they will take 5 days to access her refugee status. She understands that her Visa for Australia has been cancelled and but she also know that UN authorities are trying their best to get her another visa.
Daughter of Arab businessman Mohammed Motlaq Alqunun, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun said that while on holiday with her family in Kuwait, she escaped from the hotel when the others were asleep and bought a ticket to Australia via Bangkok. She then called a taxi and left. The Australian tourist visa being easy, she intended to reach Australia and claim Asylum there.
“I escaped an abusive family they locked me in a room for six months for cutting my hair. I’m an atheist. This is my only chance to escape,” she said. Rahaf said she has enough evidence to get her family convicted for violence.
Rahaf, who had renounced Islam when she was 16 years old, said that after she landed in Bangkok, Kuwait airlines took away her passport. Saudi officials and Kuwaiti airlines put her up in a transit hotel within Suvarnabhumi Airport and told her that she will be made to board a Kuwait airline on Monday at 11 AM (local time) back to her family who was waiting for her in Kuwait. After criticism, Bangkok has considered not to expel the woman keeping in mind her safety.
In her tweets, Rahaf claimed that she is in danger as she is being forced to go back to Saudi Arabia by the Saudi embassy. She said she is now locked inside a hotel room in the airport. She further said that someone or the other is always chasing her in the airport and that she would not even get protection or asylum in Thailand as the Thai police will not cooperate with her. The Saudi embassy withdrew her passport and she is being accused by her father and Saudi Arabia of being psychologically ill and not knowing what she is doing reported The Times Of India.
“Ex-muslims are subjected to death. You aren’t allowed to not be a Muslim. She will be locked up, abused and even worse killed in Saudi,” said Zara Kay, who is the founder of Faithless Hijabi, which works with women who have given up Islam. “It doesn’t matter how old you are. You’re a woman, you’re a man’s property,” she added.
According to Thailand’s immigration chief Surachate Hakparn, Rahaf carried no further documents, money or return ticket. “She ran away from her family to avoid marriage and she is concerned she may be in trouble returning to Saudi Arabia. We sent officials to take care of her now,” he said. He further said that the Saudi Arabia embassy has been contacted to “coordinate”, NDTV reported.
Disputing his account, Rahaf said that she was only going to Australia to seek asylum where she claimed to have a visa, but Kuwaiti and Saudi embassy representatives accosted her as soon as she landed Suvarnabhumi airport.
Initially Thai authorities slammed
Pleading her case, Rahaf took to Twitter and several people came forward and tweeted in support of her.
My name is Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Alqunun, and this is my picture pic.twitter.com/RHsnnPWUjL
— Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد القنون (@rahaf84427714) January 6, 2019
Thai authorities were slammed by Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director Phil Robertson and the UN refugee agency was urged to help the girl. “What country allows diplomats to wander around the closed section of the airport and seize the passports of the passengers?” he said.
On the other hand, Immigration head Surachate said that the girl would be sent back to her family on Monday and that this was just a “family problem”.
Rahaf’s friend confirms threats
According to The Guardian, a 20-year-old friend of Rahaf confirmed that Rahaf has a strict family and she has been subjected to violence and sexual harassment. “She received a threat from her cousin – he said he wants to see her blood, he wants to kill her,” she said.
She further said that if the family did not kill her, they would not be able to go around in public because Rahaf had renounced Islam. They will have to kill her or they would not be able to go out and face other men. Rahaf’s friend too had been subjected to abuse in Saudi Arabia and come to Australia to seek asylum. She and Rahaf had connected online. She said Rahaf is an activist and a feminist.
Human Rights Watch’s Asia deputy director, Phil Robertson, tweeted:
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 Logical Indian take
Over the years, hundreds have criticised Saudi Arabia for its ultra-conservative treatment of women. The restrictions imposed on women in this kingdom are unimaginable for anyone who roams free.
Men in this kingdom have rights over women in the worst possible ways. A tough guardianship system allows men to make all decisions on behalf of the women. Women are mere objects in the kingdom. If found guilty of any kind of “moral” crime, they are likely to be subjected to the worst forms of violence, or may even be killed.
In a previous incident, another Saudi woman called Dina Ali Lasloom was stopped in the Philippines in 2017 when she attempted to flee her family. Activists were told by an airline security official that the woman begged and screamed for help as she was carried by men with duct tape on the mouth, hand and feet.
Among several other restrictions, women in Saudi Arabia cannot go anywhere without their husband or a male relative, cannot avail public transport, has to wear an abaya and a hijab can never answer a door. While the lightest punishment for breaking these rules is being lashed, they are likely to be brutally killed.
Written by : Sumanti Sen
Edited by : Poorbita Bagchi