01/08/2019, 09.30
SAUDI ARABIA - THAILAND
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Bangkok: repatriation blocked, 18-year-old Saudi woman under UN protection

The UNHCR experts will have to assess whether there are any grounds for granting refugee status. According to some sources, her father has arrived in Thailand to bring her home. In the recent past, Mohammed al-Qunun has abandoned Islam and is therefore afraid of being killed.

Bangkok (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The UN refugee agency has launched an investigation into Saudi 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, stuck in Thailand in an attempt to flee to Australia and in danger for her life in case of repatriation. Barricaded for three days in a hotel room at Bangkok International Airport to escape the Thai authorities and Riyadh emissaries, the young woman repeatedly stated that her family members would "kill her".

Some UNHCR experts took charge of the young Saudi, freezing Rahaf's return to Kuwait, where a part of her family are waiting for her. Mohammed al-Qunun said she had recently renounced Islam and, for this reason, is afraid of being killed.

In Saudi Arabia there is no freedom of conscience and those who abandon the Muslim faith or embrace another religion risk death for apostasy.

In recent months Riyadh has come to the forefront of activists, NGOs and international leaders for its role in the war in Yemen, with civilian casualties including children, and the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

A woman named Noura, who has managed Rahaf's Twitter account in the last hours and brought the case to the global spotlight, has been contacted by the BBC, explaining that the two met in an online group of Saudi feminists and that she fled 'Saudi Arabia because she is "a former Muslim". She says the 18-year-old’s father works for the government.

Since the beginning of the affair, Rahaf’s family have refrained from making official statements. Meanwhile, the Thai authorities have granted UN experts permission to "take care" of the girl and assess the case, to check if there are any grounds for granting refugee status.

Yesterday evening, the head of the Thai immigration department, Surachate Hakparn, confirmed that Mohammed al-Qunun "was allowed to stay" and that she "left the airport with the UNHCR delegation". In the previous hours the Bangkok government had denied repatriation claiming that "no embassy" on Thai territory "can force her to leave against her will," adding that "we do not send anyone to die".

In one of the last posts on twitter the 18 year old Saudi revealed that her father arrived in Thailand and "this worries me and scares me a lot". Now she says he feels safer "under the protection" of the UN humanitarian agency ". Thailand is not a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Refugees and does not grant legal protection to those fleeing for humanitarian reasons, having over 100 thousand refugees on its territory.

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