Saudi refugee, 18, fears her family will kill her if she is sent home

‘I’m worried because my dad is here’: Father follows teenage Saudi refugee to Thailand as she tries to flee to Australia – while fears grow her family will kill her if she’s sent home

  • Rahaf was trying to reach Australia but said a Saudi official in Bangkok took her passport after her father reported her for travelling without a male ‘guardian’  
  • Teenager has been taken to ‘secure location’ after talks with UN refugee agency
  • She messaged friends on Tuesday saying she was scared as her dad had arrived

A Saudi teenager hiding in Bangkok from her ‘abusive’ family today told friends she is terrified because her father has arrived in Thailand.  

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, ran away from her family while they were on a trip to Kuwait four days ago and had flown to Thailand in the hope of reaching Australia to seek asylum.

She was stopped in Bangkok by immigration officials and has been taken to a ‘secure location’ by the UN refugee agency which is helping her. 

On Monday night she tweeted that her father had followed her to the country – and today she told a friend via Whatsapp: ‘I’m happy because I’m out the airport now but I’m worried because my dad is here.’

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, ran away from her family while they were on a trip to Kuwait four days ago and had flown to Thailand in the hope of reaching Australia to seek asylum 

On Monday night Rahaf tweeted that her father had followed her to the country – and on Tuesday told a friend via Whatsapp: ‘I’m happy because I’m out the airport now but I’m worried because my dad is here.’

The teenager fears retaliation from her family after she renounced Islam – and lawyers say she ‘could be jailed for many years and be subject to human rights violations and torture’ for ‘insulting’ her country and religion.

Today, Rahda Stirling, a Dubai-based human rights lawyer said in a statement: ‘She has violated Saudi laws in seeking to travel without the permission of her male guardian and has now further violated a number of laws and outraged the regime. 

‘There are reports that she is receiving death threats and that Saudi men are calling for her to be hanged as an example to other would be “rebels”.’

The teenager was due to have been marched onto a flight back to Kuwait on Sunday morning but, fearing her family would kill her, she refused to board the plane.

She then posted a clip on Twitter of her barricading her hotel door with a table, mattresses and a chair. 

On Monday said she left the airport after a Thai official said ‘we will not send anyone to die’.

She is to be housed in a ‘secure location’ having been temporarily admitted to the country for an evaluation. 

Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun has gone into hiding following Thailand’s promise not to deport her after she barricaded herself in a hotel room to avoid being sent back to her ‘abusive’ family. She is pictured shaking hands with Thailand’s immigration chief Surachate Hakparn after leaving her room today

Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun barricaded herself in a hotel room (pictured, today) at a Thai airport, using tables, chairs and mattresses in a bid to avoid deportation

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun (left) finally left her hotel room after talks with the UN refugee agency. She is pictured with Thai Immigration Police Chief Surachet Hakparn (right) at Bangkok airport ahead of being taken to a ‘secure location’

In a sign of growing desperation during the night, Rahaf posted video of her barricading her hotel room door with furniture. If sent back, she said she will likely be imprisoned, and is ‘sure 100 percent’ her family will kill her, she said

In a tweet this afternoon, Rahaf, who fears retaliation from her family after she renounced Islam, said she was ‘scared’ after learning her father had arrived in Thailand – but that she was ‘safe’ with the UN and Thai authorities

In another tweet today, Rahaf revealed that her passport had been returned to her and included a picture of the travel document

Rahaf has claimed she was tricked into giving up her passport on arrival in Bangkok – but the Saudi Foreign Ministry denied its embassy had seized the document and says she was stopped at the airport for violating Thai immigration laws. 

Abdulilah al-Shouaibi, charge d’affaires at Bangkok’s Saudi embassy, has, however, acknowledged that the woman’s father had previously contacted them for ‘help’ to bring her back. 

On Monday, Bangkok’s Criminal Court dismissed an injunction request from a human rights lawyer to prevent her deportation.

But the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees later said it had been granted access to the Saudi national to assess her need for international protection ‘and find an immediate solution for her situation’. 

  • ‘My family will kill me’: Saudi woman, 24, fleeing to…

    A Saudi woman’s plea for help exposes risks runaways face

Share this article

Rahaf fled her ‘abusive’ family while travelling in Kuwait, and had flown to Thailand in the hopes of reaching Australia to seek asylum. But she was stopped in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport by Kuwaiti and Saudi embassy officials.

She said a Saudi official in the Thai airport confiscated her passport after her father reported her for travelling without her male ‘guardian’. He claimed she was mentally ill but failed to provide any evidence. 

Saudi culture and guardianship policy requires women to have permission from a male relative to work, travel, marry, and even get some medical treatment. The deeply conservative Muslim country lifted a ban on women drivers last year.

The incident comes as Saudi Arabia faces intense scrutiny over the shocking murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, which has renewed criticism of the kingdom’s rights record.  

Rahaf (centre, today) said ‘I feel save now under UNHCR protection’ after holding talks with the UN refugee agency

UNHCR representative Giuseppe De Vincentiis (centre) was pictured walking into the transit hotel at the airport ahead of talks with Rahaf

Thailand’s Immigration Police chief Major General Surachate Hakparn (pictured today) said Rahaf will not be sent anywhere against her wishes

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, has been at Bangkok airport since Saturday when she was denied entry by Thai immigration officials, who deny her accusations that she was detained at the behest of the Saudi government

Rahaf made desperate appeals for help and repeated calls to speak to someone from the UN

Rahaf has said on Twitter that she fears her family will kill her if she is forced to return to them from Thailand

On Twitter, Rahaf had written of being in ‘real danger’ if forced to return to her family in Saudi Arabia, and has claimed in media interviews that she could be killed. She said she had renounced Islam and is fearful of her father’s retaliation

After announcing that Thailand ‘will not force her’ to leave, Thailand’s immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters that Rahaf would be ‘allowed to stay’ after a meeting with officials from the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

‘She is under the care of the UNHCR now but we also sent Thai security to help take care (of her),’ Surachate told reporters at Suvarnabhumi airport.

He said the teenager had told UNHCR officials she ‘wants to stay in Thailand for a while while seeking asylum to a third country’.

The agency ‘will take five days to consider her status’ and another five days to arrange for travel, Surachate said, adding that he would meet with Saudi diplomats on Tuesday to explain Thailand’s decision. 

UNHCR’s spokesman in Geneva Babar Baloch confirmed Rahaf had ‘left the airport to a safe place in the city’ and said agency officials would interview her once she had had some rest.    

Rahaf Mohammed al Qunun, 18, sent this selfie to MailOnline from the Bangkok airport hotel room in which she is being held. She believes she will be murdered by her family if she is deported 

Rahaf accused Kuwait Airlines and the Saudi embassy of working together to take her passport when she arrived in Bangkok

Q&A: The hurdles and obstacles Saudi women runaways face 

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun is the latest young Saudi woman to attempt to flee her family and seek asylum abroad. Her calls for help on Twitter have grabbed international attention and prompted Thai authorities to say they will not deport her back to her family.

With Saudi women runaways increasingly using social media to amplify their desperate pleas for help, here a look at the obstacles they face:


Alqunun has told rights groups and media she’s fleeing an abusive family and seeking greater freedoms abroad.

Saudi females who flee their families are almost always running away from abusive male relatives, often a father or brother. In a few of the cases, the women have also renounced Islam and claim they cannot return home. They fear they could be killed after publicly denouncing the faith and publicizing their identities online.

In other cases, a woman’s father might be barring from her marriage or forcing her into marriage. In other cases her salary is being confiscated, or she’s facing sexual or physical abuse. 


The kingdom has granted women greater rights in recent years, like the right to drive, run and vote in local elections and play sports in school.

Ultimately, however, male guardianship laws remain in place. Under these laws, a woman must have her male guardian’s permission in order to obtain a passport, travel abroad or marry.

From childhood through adulthood , every Saudi woman passes from the control of one legal guardian to another, a male relative whose decisions or whims can determine the course of her life. Legal guardians are often a woman’s father or husband, but can also be a brother or her own son.

Although King Salman has tried to limit its scope, male permission is sometimes still demanded when a woman tries to rent an apartment, undergo elective medical procedures or open a bank account. 


There are no public statistics available for how many Saudi women try to flee abroad each year. The most recent statistics from the Ministry of Labor and Social Development show that 577 Saudi women tried to flee their homes within Saudi Arabia in 2015. That figure is likely to be much higher in reality because many families do not report runaways for fear of social stigma.

Social media has brought attention to a number of cases of women trying to flee in recent years.

Saudi women like Dina Ali Lasloom who was stopped in the Philippines, two Saudi sisters who fled to Turkey, and now Rafah Alqunun in Thailand have all used Twitter and social media to raise awareness of their plight and ask for help. 


If women are caught running away, they can be pressured to return home or placed in shelters where often the only way out is to escape again. Others are jailed for violating so-called obedience laws and only a male guardian can sign for their release.

Last year, Mariam al-Otaibi spent more than 100 days in prison in Saudi Arabia after her father filed a complaint to police against her for leaving home. She’d moved from the ultraconservative province of Qassim to the capital, where supporters helped her rent an apartment and find work.

Women can also be placed in restrictive shelters where they cannot freely access the internet or mobile phones. Their movements are also restricted and often the only way to leave is with the consent of a male guardian.

The shelters say they offer women psychiatric care and therapy, but do not take in women who, for example, are pregnant out of wedlock. Premarital sex can lead to criminal prosecution in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries. 


Saudi women who attempt to apply for asylum face a number of legal hurdles, including proving abuse. Without evidence, such as threatening texts, video or photos of abuse, a woman’s case for asylum can be rejected in the United States, for example.

Without access to a bank account of their own or a credit card, women can find themselves in dire circumstances in foreign countries where they do not know the local laws.

Saudi activists who have successfully fled political persecution in the kingdom do not advise women to flee as a first option, warning that women who run away without a clear plan in place are vulnerable to various kinds of abuse.

Often the Saudi women who run away are young and inexperienced, further complicating their ability to navigate lengthy and complex asylum processes.

Two young Saudi sisters found dead in New York last year had sought asylum in the U.S., according to detectives. They’d maxed out the older sister’s credit card before their bodies were found along the rocky banks of the Hudson River wrapped together with tape. Police did not suspect foul play was involved. 

Restrictions and reforms: Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women 

The teenager’s desperate legal fight to stop her deportation from Bangkok airport has yet again shone a spotlight on the treatment of women in her homeland.

Ultraconservative Saudi Arabia is striving to craft a new image – but a number of policies remain unchanged, leaving male relatives in charge of decisions that determine women’s lives.

Here is where the Sunni Muslim kingdom stands on five core issues:

– Education –

Saudi Arabia’s so-called guardianship system places the legal and personal affairs of women in the hands of the men in their lives – fathers, brothers, husbands and sons.

Under the system, women require the formal permission of their closest male relative to enrol in classes at home, or to travel to enrol in classes abroad.

In July 2017, Saudi Arabia’s education ministry announced girls’ schools would begin to offer physical education classes for the first time, so long as they conformed with Islamic law.

The ministry statement did not specify whether girls were required to have male permission to take the classes.

Saudi Arabia is home to a number of women-only universities.

– Employment –

Restrictions on women’s employment, long ruled by the guardianship system, have been loosened as Saudi Arabia tries to wean itself off its economic dependency on oil.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman, named heir to the throne in June 2017, has pushed an economic plan, known as ‘Vision 2030’, that aims to boost the female quota in the workplace from 22 percent to 30 percent by 2030.

King Salman – his father – has signed off on decrees allowing women to apply online for their own business licences. Women are now also permitted to join the Saudi police force.

– Travel, driving –

Women still require male permission to renew their passports and leave the country.

But the biggest change over the past year came on June 24, 2018, when women took the driver’s seat for the first time in the kindgdom’s history.

While the end of the driving ban was a welcome major step, a number of women’s rights activists were rounded up that same month and put behind bars – some of them campaigners for the right to drive.

– Personal status –

Under the guardianship system, women of any age cannot marry without the consent of their male guardian.

A man may also divorce his wife without the woman’s consent.

On Sunday, the Saudi justice ministry said courts were required to notify women by text message that their marriages had been terminated, a measure seemingly aimed at ending cases of men getting a divorce without informing their partners.

– Public spaces –

In January 2018, women were allowed into a special section in select sports stadiums for the first time. They had previously been banned from attending sporting events.

Saudi Arabia has also dialled back the power of its infamous morality police force, or ‘mutawa’, who for decades patrolled the streets on the lookout for women with uncovered hair or bright nail polish.

Some women in the capital, Riyadh, and other cities are now seen in public without headscarves.

By Afp

Source: Read Full Article