''Afraid, they will kill me': Urgent push to save Saudi woman from being sent back to family

‘Afraid, they will kill me’: The urgent push to save Saudi woman from being sent back to family

Eighteen year old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun says she is hours away from being forced to fly back to the Middle East from Thailand, despite fearing for her life in Saudi Arabia.

She managed to get away from her family in Kuwait during a holiday and board a plane for Thailand, aiming to seek asylum in Australia.

But arriving at Suvarnabhumi airport, Mohammed Alqunun says she was met by a Saudi embassy representative who seized her passport. She was then told she would be forced to return to Kuwait on Monday morning, where her father and brother were waiting for her, according to Human Rights Watch Asia.

Mohammed Alqunun is currently in an airport hotel, where she has been tweeting about her ordeal, including showing video footage and images of her passport, declaring: “I’m afraid, my family WILL kill me.”

She has tweeted: “I’m the girl who run away from Kuwait to Thailand. I’m in real danger because the Saudi embassy trying to forcing me to go back to Saudi Arabia, while I’m at the airport waiting for my second flight.”

She says she’s fleeing a forced marriage, as well as physical and psychological abuse including being locked in a room for six months for cutting her hair. She told the BBC she fears being killed by her family and that she has renounced Islam. She also wants to be free to study and work, and says she has shared her name, details and age because there is “nothing to lose” now.

A number of human rights advocates have stepped in, urging Thailand to allow Mohammed Alqunun to continue on to Australia. The hashtag #FreeRhaf has gone viral in Australia.

Mohammed Alqunun’s ordeal is similar to that of another Saudi woman Dina Ali Lasloom. In 2017, aged 24, she was flying to Australia from Kuwait when she was stopped in the Phillipines, and was sent back to Saudi Arabia. She also feared her family would kill her, which she shared via a Canadian tourist’s phone. According to the BBC, her fate remains unknown.

Human Rights Watch Asia has expressed signifiant concern for Mohammed Alqunun, declaring that Thai authorities should “immediately halt the planned deportation” and allow her unrestricted access to make a refugee claim with the Bangkok office of the United Nations refugee agency.

Human Rights Watch says Saudi women fleeing their families can face serious harm, violence and deprivation of liberty if returned against their will to their relatives.

Mohammed Alqunun was able to flee Kuwait because it does not require a male relative’s approval for an adult woman to leave the country — unlike Saudia Arabia, which does.

Under Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system, women are required to obtain permission from a male guardian to travel abroad, as well as to marry and even to be released from prison. Women often also need a male guardian’s consent to get work or healthcare. As Human Rights Watch Asia states, such practices relegate women to being treated as permanent legal minors, while also putting women at risk of significant and sustained violence and abuse.

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