BANGKOK — A runaway Saudi woman who barricaded herself inside a room at a Bangkok airport rather than be deported back to her family has left safely in UN care.
Thai authorities will allow 18-year-old Rahaf Alqunun into the country while the UNHCR processes her case after agency representatives were allowed to meet with her late Monday afternoon, according to Lt. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, immigration bureau chief.
After being allowed to meet Alqunun, the UNHCR on Monday agreed to place her under its care and process her for travel to another country, during which Thailand will allow her entry to the country, Surachate told reporters just after 8pm.
“She has left the airport with the UN,” he said. “She’s not being held by the immigration any longer.”
He said that UNHCR had taken Alqunun from the airport to other accommodations in Bangkok and it will take about five days to find a country to accept her. Although she’ll be under care of the UN, Surachate said Thai authorities will also provide additional security to guarantee her safety.
He said if Alqunun’s father comes to Bangkok, she will be asked if she wants to see him. He added that Thailand will later hold talks with the Saudi Embassy regarding the situation.
The act of apparent cooperation with the UNHCR on behalf of Thailand is a break from routine policy. Requests for asylum cannot be made in Thailand as it is not a signatory to international conventions on refugees, nor does Bangkok recognize the legal status of those entering the kingdom.
Alqunun has gripped headlines around the world since she began tweeting Saturday that she had her passport taken while transiting through Suvarnabhumi Airport on her way to Australia. She said she had escaped years of abuse and feared for her life if returned to her family, which she fled while on vacation in Kuwait.
Thai immigration officials initially said they were cooperating with the Saudi government to return Alqunun to her family. After she resisted deportation this morning by barricading herself inside a hotel room at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Surachate came out to reverse course and say Thailand would not deport her against her will.
This is a developing story and may be updated without notice.