A Saudi teenager trying to flee her “abusive” family has barricaded herself inside a hotel in Thailand as she resists attempts to send her home.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun’s passport has been seized by Thai authorities, and the 18-year-old says she fears her family will kill her if she is sent back to the Arab kingdom.
The teenager has tweeted a video which shows her barricading her hotel door with a table and a mattress.
Ms Alqunun is seeking asylum in Australia and has been pleading for help on social media.
The UN’s refugee agency has said it is following the case and “trying to seek access from Thai authorities” to meet with her.
She told Human Rights Watch that she is fleeing abuse from her family, and alleges she had suffered beatings and death threats from male relatives who forced her to remain in her room for six months after she cut her hair.
For runaway Saudi women, fleeing can be a matter of life and death.
Ms Alqunun’s ordeal began on Saturday night after officials in Thailand stopped her in transit from Kuwait.
She was denied entry into the country by Thai immigration officials, who deny accusations that she was detained at the behest of the Saudi government.
Although Ms Alqunun was due to leave Bangkok and be returned to her family on a Kuwait Airways flight, Human Rights Watch has said that the plane has now departed without her on board.
Thailand has since said it will not be sending Ms Alqunun back to Kuwait on Monday due to safety concerns.
Late on Sunday, Ms Alqunun had warned: “My brothers and family and the Saudi embassy will be waiting for me in Kuwait.
“They will kill me. My life is in danger. My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things.”
Ms Alqunun has also claimed that her family has prevented her from continuing her education – and said she feels “oppressed” because she has not been allowed to drive or travel.
“I love life and work and I am very ambitious but my family is preventing me from living,” she added.
Lawyers in Thailand filed an injunction to prevent the teenager’s deportation but it was rejected.
The NPS law firm said on Facebook that a Bangkok court turned the request down because there was not enough evidence and it was not clear who the teenager is.
Abdullah al Shuaibi, Saudi Arabia’s charge d’affaires in Bangkok, has denied the Gulf kingdom is involved in Ms Alqunun being held at the airport.
He was quoted in Saudi press saying that Ms Alqunun was stopped by Thai authorities because she did not appear to have a return ticket, a hotel reservation or itinerary to show she was a tourist.
Mr al Shuaibi said the Saudi Embassy has no authority to stop anyone at the airport and that this decision rests with Thai officials.
The UN Refugee Agency said in a statement: “UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has been following developments closely and has been trying to seek access from the Thai authorities to meet with Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, to assess her need for international protection.
“UNHCR consistently advocates that refugees and asylum seekers – having been confirmed or claimed to be in need of international protection – cannot be returned to their countries of origin according to the principle of non-refoulement, which prevents states from expelling or returning persons to a territory where their life or freedom would be threatened.
“This principle is recognized as customary international law, and is also enshrined in Thailand’s other treaty obligations.”
Sarah Hanson-Young, a South Australian senator, said: “I’ve put in a number of calls into the government today, both department of foreign affairs and border protection, urging them to act very quickly to help bring a young Saudi woman who is currently detained in Bangkok airport to Australia.
“She’s fleeing from a pretty abusive situation back home, a forced marriage, and she’s denounced Islam which is a crime back home in Saudi Arabia.
“She has a visa, a current visa for visiting her in Australia but she doesn’t have travel documents.”
Saudi women have increasingly turned to social media to amplify their calls for help after running away from their families.
Dina Lasloom triggered a storm online in 2017 when she was stopped en route to Australia where she planned to seek asylum.
She was forced to return to Saudi Arabia and was not publicly heard from again, according to activists tracking her whereabouts.