‘We Won’t Send Someone to Their Death,’ Thai Immigration Chief Says

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun in a still image from a video. Photo: Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun / Human Rights Watch via Associated Press
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun in a still image from a video. Photo: Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun / Human Rights Watch via Associated Press

SAMUT PRAKAN — The head of Thailand’s Immigration Bureau said a Saudi woman who fled her family to seek asylum in Australia will not be forcibly deported.

Speaking at the Bangkok airport where Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun refused to board a flight this morning back to the family she fled, Lt. Gen. Surachate Hakparn said just after 4pm that Thailand has reversed course and will not deport her against her will.

“If deporting her would result in her death, we definitely wouldn’t want to do that,” he said. Asked if about Saudi Arabia’s death penalty for renouncing Islam, he said “their laws are like that.”

“Since Thailand is the Land of Smiles, of course we won’t send someone to their death,” he added.

Representatives from the UNHCR would be able to talk to her at 5pm, he announced.

Thailand’s relations with Saudi Arabia – the two kingdoms have not enjoyed full diplomatic status since 1989 – were important considerations, Lt. Gen. Surachate said.

Update: Saudi Woman Leaves Bangkok Airport Under UN Care

“The important thing we have to keep in mind is maintaining diplomatic relations, and also her safety as well,” he said.

Police have cordoned off the Miracle Transit Hotel at Suvarnabhumi International Airport after Alqunun this morning refused to leave her room and board an 11:15am Kuwaiti Airlines flight.

Alqunun’s father was said to be on his way to Bangkok and expected to arrive tonight.

“Fifty-fifty her father is coming,” Surachate said. “If she doesn’t want to go with her father, we cannot force her to go.”

At 4:50pm, Rahaf live streamed video on Twitter showing the room where she has barricaded herself inside.

This morning, Pruettipong Prayonsiri, commander of the Immigration Bureau’s airport division, said police were working with Saudi Arabia’s embassy to send her back to her family.

“Wherever they came from, they have to go back there. If someone came from China, then they have to return to China. If they came from Japan, they have to come from Japan. They can’t go to a third country,” Maj. Gen. Pruettipong said.

Alqunun says she was fleeing years of abuse at the hands of her family and faces death if she is deported. She began tweeting late Saturday after Thai authorities stopped her in transit from Kuwait. She possesses a visa for Australia, where she was planning to seek asylum.

“She’s not a refugee. She’s a child, and her guardians want her back,” Pruettipong said. “The embassy did all the work with us.”

Reporting Asaree Thaitrakulpanich, Jintamas Saksornchai