An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family and barricaded herself inside a Bangkok airport hotel to prevent being expelled by Thai authorities has left the airport after talks with the United Nations refugee agency, an official said on Monday.
Thai immigration officials had tried to return Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun to Kuwait where her family is, but she refused to board a flight on Monday and barricaded herself into her airport hotel room. The friend also explained that the young woman "received a threat from her cousin-he said he wants to see her blood, he wants to kill her".
She is now said to have barricaded herself in a hotel room in the airport's transit zone, and is facing deportation to her home country.
Rahaf and Human Rights Watch told AFP she was stopped by Saudi and Kuwaiti officials when she arrived in Suvarnabhumi airport and her passport was forcibly taken from her.
Saudi culture and guardianship policy requires women to have permission from a male relative to work, travel, marry, and even get some medical treatment.
Although Thai immigration officials initially attempted to return the young women to her family in the Middle East, they have since vowed to allow her to stay.
"We are very grateful that the Thai authorities did not send back (Qunun) against her will and are extending protection to her", said the UNHCR's Thailand representative Giuseppe de Vincentiis. "I think this will be fair to both sides", he said.
"When I landed at the airport, someone came and said he would process the [Thai] visa but he took my passport".
New York-based Human Rights Watch said Thailand should not send Qunun back to her family because she says she faces danger.
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According to The Guardian, Qunun had a three-month multiple-entry tourist visa for Australia. But he denied the Saudi teenager was being detained by Thai authorities.
The ultra-conservative Saudi kingdom has always been criticized for imposing some of the world's toughest restrictions on women.
Qunun's plight unfolded on social media, drawing support from around the world, which convinced Thai authorities to back down from sending her back to Saudi Arabia. "No one, no embassy can force her to go anywhere", Surachate said.
Speaking to CNN, Al-Qunun said she had originally meant to fly on to Australia but made a decision to try and enter Thailand instead.
Saudi Arabia's embassy in Thailand denied reports that Riyadh had requested her extradition. A family trip to Kuwait apparently allowed her to evade Saudi Arabia's restrictions on travel.
Charge d'Affaires Abdul-Ilah Al-Shuaibi told Saudi Gazette the Saudi girl, who claims to have fled from her family to Thailand for reasons of family violence, had used her presence in Kuwait to escape. "My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things".
She had asserted her independence and renounced Islam but had been forced to pray, wear a hijab and was beaten by her brother.
On Monday, immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said that Thailand will not send her back immediately.
An airline security official reported seeing her dragged out of the airport with her mouth, hands, and feet bound with duct tape.