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Thai, Saudi officials meet over case of young Saudi woman

Published
In this photo released by the Immigration Police, Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, right talks to Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun,second left, before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. (Immigration police via AP)

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's immigration police chief met Tuesday with officials from the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok, as Saudi Arabia tried to distance itself from accusations that it attempted to block a young woman's effort to flee from her family and seek asylum abroad.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun arrived in Bangkok from Kuwait late Saturday after slipping away from her family, whom she accused of abusing her. The 18-year-old was stopped by officials in Thailand who confiscated her passport.

Her urgent pleas for help over Twitter from an airport hotel room garnered tens of thousands of followers and the attention of the U.N.'s refugee agency, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Public pressure prompted Thai officials to return her passport and let her temporarily stay in Thailand.

Alqunun alleged several times that Saudi officials were involved in seizing her passport. However, in repeated statements, including one issued Tuesday, the Saudi Embassy in Thailand said it is only monitoring her situation.

Its latest statement, which described Alqunun's case as a "family affair," said Saudi Arabia did not demand her deportation back home. The embassy — and Thai officials — earlier also said that Alqunun was stopped by Thai authorities in Bangkok because she did not have a return ticket, a hotel reservation or itinerary to show she was a tourist, which appeared to have raised a red flag about the reasons for her trip.

Thailand's immigration police chief, Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, told reporters Tuesday that Saudi diplomats told him they are satisfied with how her case had been handled.

"The position of two countries on this matter is the same — that the priority is to provide her safety. We are both concerned for Miss Rahaf's safety and well-being," Surachate said.

He said Alqunun's father and brother were due to arrive soon in Bangkok, but that it was her decision whether to meet with them. On Twitter, she has expressed fear of such a meeting. The father had previously been expected Monday night.

A spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees at its Geneva headquarters, Babar Baloch, said it could take several days for the agency to look into Alqunun's claims. He said it was "too early to tell" if she will be granted asylum or refugee status.

Baloch noted the power of social media in making her plight a matter that officials could not ignore.

"For us, all individual cases are alike. It's different the way we get access to those individuals ... (what's) different in this case is the wave of all of the voices of solidarity and support came together, joined up in terms of caring for this individual," he said. "This should be the standard for any individual who claims that his or her life is in danger."

Saudi Arabia's human rights record has come under intense scrutiny since the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in October. Khashoggi, who wrote critically of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in columns for The Washington Post, had been living in self-imposed exile before he was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul by Saudi agents.

The kingdom offered various shifting accounts of the circumstances of his death before eventually settling on the explanation that he died in a botched operation to forcibly bring him back to Saudi Arabia.

Some female Saudi runaways fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years. Saudi activists say the kingdom, through its embassies abroad, has at times put pressure on border patrol agents in foreign countries to deport the women back to Saudi Arabia.

In 2017, Dina Ali Lasloom triggered a firestorm online 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.

Australian national broadcaster ABC reported that the country's Home Affairs Department announced late Tuesday that it would consider Alqunun's application for asylum if she was found to be a genuine refugee, and called on Thai authorities and UNHCR to assess her claim as quickly as possible.

Human Rights Watch earlier called on the Australian government to allow Alqunun's entry into that country, amid worries about her visa status.

The organization's Australian director, Elaine Pearson, said she had seen electronic confirmation of her tourist visa, but that Alqunun could no longer access her visa page on Australia's immigration website on Tuesday, sparking concern that the document had been canceled. An Australian visa is usually processed electronically and not stamped in one's passport, but confirmed by a document that the visitor can print out.

Since Australia has expressed concern in the past about women's rights in Saudi Arabia, it should "come forward and offer protection for this young woman," Pearson said.

___

Marshallsea reported from Sydney. Associated Press writers Kaweewit Kaewjinda in Bangkok, Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn talks to media about Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun outside the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Bangkok Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. Thailand's Immigration Police chief met Tuesday with officials of the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok and said the officials told him they are satisfied with how the case of the young Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her abusive family has been settled. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
A policeman patrols outside the Saudi embassy in Bangkok Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. Thailand's Immigration Police chief met Tuesday with officials of the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok and said the officials told him they are satisfied with how the case of the young Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her abusive family has been settled. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Policemen stand guard outside the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Bangkok Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. Thailand's Immigration Police chief met Tuesday with officials of the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok and said the officials told him they are satisfied with how the case of the young Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her abusive family has been settled. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
In this photo released by the Immigration Bureau, Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, foreground walks by Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, right, before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. (Immigration police via AP)
In this photo released by the Immigration Police,  Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, second left, shakes hand with Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. (Immigration police via AP)
In this photo released by the Immigration Police, Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, right, walks with Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. (Immigration police via AP)
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun leaves the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. She has been appealing for aid from the United Nations refugee agency and anyone else who can help, and by Monday morning had tens of thousands of followers on Twitter. (AP Photo)
In this photo released by the Immigration Police, Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, right talks to Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun,second left, before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. (Immigration police via AP)
In this Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, photo released by Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun/Human Rights Watch, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun views her mobile phone as she sits barricaded in a hotel room at an international airport in Bangkok, Thailand. Alqunun says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia. (Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun/Human Rights Watch via AP)
In this Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, image made from video released by Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun/Human Rights Watch, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun views her mobile phone as she sits barricaded in a hotel room at an international airport in Bangkok, Thailand. Alqunun says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia. (Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun/Human Rights Watch via AP)
In this Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, image made from video released by Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun/Human Rights Watch, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun views her mobile phone as she sits barricaded in a hotel room at an international airport in Bangkok, Thailand. Alqunun says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia. (Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun/Human Rights Watch via AP)
In this Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, image made from video released by Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun/Human Rights Watch, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun views her mobile phone as she sits barricaded in a hotel room at an international airport in Bangkok, Thailand. Alqunun says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia. (Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun/Human Rights Watch via AP)
Policemen stand guard outside the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Bangkok Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. Thailand's Immigration Police chief met Tuesday with officials of the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok and said the officials told him they are satisfied with how the case of the young Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her abusive family has been settled. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Policemen stand guard outside the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Bangkok Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. Thailand's Immigration Police chief met Tuesday with officials of the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok and said the officials told him they are satisfied with how the case of the young Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her abusive family has been settled. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
In this photo released by the Immigration Police, Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, right talks to Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun,second left, before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. (Immigration police via AP)
In this photo released by the Immigration Police, Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, right talks to Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun,second left, before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. (Immigration police via AP)
In this photo released by the Immigration Police, Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, right, walks with Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. (Immigration police via AP)
In this photo released by the Immigration Police, Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, right, walks with Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. (Immigration police via AP)
In this photo released by the Immigration Police,  Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, second left, shakes hand with Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. (Immigration police via AP)
In this photo released by the Immigration Police, Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, second left, shakes hand with Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. (Immigration police via AP)
In this photo released by the Immigration Bureau, Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, foreground walks by Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, right, before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. (Immigration police via AP)
In this photo released by the Immigration Bureau, Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, foreground walks by Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, right, before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. (Immigration police via AP)
A passport copy of Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun sits on the desk as Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn talks to media about her status during a press conference at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. Thailand's Immigration Police chief says Alqunun, the young Saudi woman stopped in Bangkok as she was trying to escape alleged abuse by her family by traveling to Australia for asylum, will not be sent anywhere against her wishes. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
A passport copy of Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun sits on the desk as Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn talks to media about her status during a press conference at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. Thailand's Immigration Police chief says Alqunun, the young Saudi woman stopped in Bangkok as she was trying to escape alleged abuse by her family by traveling to Australia for asylum, will not be sent anywhere against her wishes. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
A policeman patrols outside the Saudi embassy in Bangkok Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. Thailand's Immigration Police chief met Tuesday with officials of the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok and said the officials told him they are satisfied with how the case of the young Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her abusive family has been settled. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
A policeman patrols outside the Saudi embassy in Bangkok Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. Thailand's Immigration Police chief met Tuesday with officials of the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok and said the officials told him they are satisfied with how the case of the young Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her abusive family has been settled. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun leaves the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. She has been appealing for aid from the United Nations refugee agency and anyone else who can help, and by Monday morning had tens of thousands of followers on Twitter. (AP Photo)
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun leaves the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. She has been appealing for aid from the United Nations refugee agency and anyone else who can help, and by Monday morning had tens of thousands of followers on Twitter. (AP Photo)
In this Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, photo released by Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun/Human Rights Watch, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun views her mobile phone as she sits barricaded in a hotel room at an international airport in Bangkok, Thailand. Alqunun says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia. (Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun/Human Rights Watch via AP)
In this Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, photo released by Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun/Human Rights Watch, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun views her mobile phone as she sits barricaded in a hotel room at an international airport in Bangkok, Thailand. Alqunun says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia. (Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun/Human Rights Watch via AP)
In this photo released by the Immigration Police, Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, right talks to Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun,second left, before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. (Immigration police via AP)
In this photo released by the Immigration Police, Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, right talks to Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun,second left, before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived on a flight from Kuwait. (Immigration police via AP)
Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn talks to media about Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun outside the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Bangkok Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. Thailand's Immigration Police chief met Tuesday with officials of the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok and said the officials told him they are satisfied with how the case of the young Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her abusive family has been settled. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn talks to media about Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun outside the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Bangkok Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. Thailand's Immigration Police chief met Tuesday with officials of the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok and said the officials told him they are satisfied with how the case of the young Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her abusive family has been settled. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)