The head of Thailand's immigration police said Monday that a young Saudi woman who was stopped in Bangkok as she was trying to travel to Australia to escape alleged abuse by her family will not be sent anywhere against her wishes.
She said: "My parents have just arrived, I'm scared, and I want to go to another country, but I'm safe now under the protection of Thai authorities and the United Nations".
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun travelled with her family from Saudi Arabia into neighboring Kuwait. While on a recent trip with her family, Alqunun slipped away and flew to Thailand, in an attempt to reach Australia, where she hoped to ultimately be granted asylum.
She said her passport had been confiscated when she arrived at Bangkok even though she had a visa to Australia.al-Qunun also posted a video from the airport, in which she said that she was stopped at the airport and then tweeted an image of her passport.
On Twitter, Alqunun wrote 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.
In Saudi Arabia, women can not travel outside the country without permission from a male family member. "She had no further documents such as return ticket or money", he said.
"We are very grateful that the Thai authorities did not send back Ms. Alqunun against her will and are extending protection for her", said Giuseppe de Vicentiis, UNHCR's representative in Thailand said on Tuesday. "I think this will be fair to both sides", he said.
"I'm afraid, my family WILL kill me".
Because she did not have a visa to enter Thailand, he said police had denied her entry and were in the process of repatriating her through the same airline she had taken, Kuwait Airlines.
The charity has also urged the Thai government to let Qunan approach the UNHCR office in Bangkok to make a refugee claim.
Qunun said she planned to spend a few days in Thailand, a popular destination for medical treatment, so she would not spark suspicion when she left Kuwait.
The ultra-conservative Saudi kingdom has always been criticized for imposing some of the world's toughest restrictions on women.
Human Rights Watch said she's at risk of facing criminal charges in Saudi Arabia for 'parental disobedience, ' which can result in imprisonment, as well as for 'harming the reputation of the kingdom'. Rahaf could be sent back to Saudi Arabia within hours without our intervention.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, was stopped in Thailand's Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok on January 5 while attempting to fly from Kuwait to Australia.
"They will kill me", Qunun told Reuters.
If forced back, she told the New York Times, "they will kill me".
Thailand's immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said Rahaf would be sent back to Saudi Arabia by Monday morning, adding, "It's a family problem".
She said she believed she was stopped after her family appealed to Kuwait Airways.
The Ministry added that Saudi consular officials were in "constant contact with her family" and she would be "deported to the State of Kuwait where her family live".