“I am the girl who escaped Kuwait to Thailand. My life is in real danger if I am forced to return to Saudi Arabia,” wrote 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun on Twitter this weekend in Arabic. She was in the Bangkok airport, about to be deported to her home country, and was pleading for help. The internet noticed and reacted; the Thai government has since responded sympathetically to Alqunun’s plight–at least for the time being.
Over the course of the last 48 hours, Alqunun live-tweeted her attempt to not be forced back to Saudi Arabia. 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. A mysterious person, however, told her he would help her get a visa and then took her passport. Thai authorities then told Alqunun she was being deported back to Saudi Arabia.
If forced back, she told the New York Times, “they will kill me.” In an interview with the newspaper, she talked about her life as a woman in Saudi Arabia:
Ms. Alqunun described a life of unrelenting abuse at the hands of her family, who live in the city of Hail, in northern Saudi Arabia. She said she was once locked in a room for six months because she had cut her hair in a way that her family did not approve of. And she said her family used to beat her, mostly her brother.
Alqunun told both the newspaper and the world via social media that her deportation was essentially a death sentence. She was clear about what she wanted and what the stakes were. Alqunun posted videos on her Twitter page and also connected with organizations trying to help. One video posted by the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch shows her saying “I want asylum.”
Video from @rahaf84427714 just sent from her hotel room at the #Bangkok airport. She has barricaded herself in the room & says she will not leave until she is able to see #UNHCR. Why is #Thailand not letting @Refugees see her for refugee status determination? @hrw #SaveRahaf pic.twitter.com/3lb2NDRsVG
— Phil Robertson (@Reaproy) January 7, 2019
Alqunun posted another video of a self-made barricade behind her hotel room door demanding asylum from the UN. These posts seem to have worked; Alqunun now has over 50,000 Twitter followers and the world’s attention–including Thailand’s. The country’s immigration office confirmed that it is not sending her back to Saudi Arabia just yet. “We will not send someone back to die,” said the Thai immigration chief, Major General Surachate Hakparn, according to the New York Times.
This doesn’t mean she’s being granted asylum. However, it does buy Alqunun a little bit of time. It’s still possible the Thai government will deport her. But with the world watching–and now the help of groups like Human Rights Watch–it’s looking at least possible that Alqunun will be able to find freedom.
She posted earlier today that she has received her passport back; Alqunun adds in the same tweet that her father is now in Thailand, which makes her very fearful.
Hundreds of thousands of people, however, will be keeping an eye out in the hopes that she successfully makes it to Australia.