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Saudi Woman Barricades Herself In Thai Hotel Room To Avoid Deportation


We're following a developing story out of Thailand today. A young Saudi Arabian woman who says she fled her family in hear of her life is now under the U.N. refugee agency's protection. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun is 18 years old. She flew to Thailand, then planned to fly onward to Australia and seek asylum. Thai authorities had her detained at an airport hotel. She's since tweeted that she's heard her father has arrived in Thailand and that it, quote, "worried and scared her." Phil Robertson has spoken to this young woman. He's deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. Good morning.

PHIL ROBERTSON: Good morning.

KING: So this young woman was supposed to be put on a flight to Kuwait, where her family is vacationing. That did not happen this morning. So where do things stand for her right now?

ROBERTSON: She is saying that she wants to apply for political asylum. She is deathly afraid of going back to Saudi Arabia. She believes that if she does that - she said multiple times that she will be killed. And she has a long list of abuses that she's suffered previously to point to, to back that contention up.

KING: You've been talking to her. What specifically is she saying about the abuse within her family?

ROBERTSON: It was both psychological and physical abuse. The abuse included beatings, included things like, you know, confining her for cutting her hair or for demanding certain things that she wanted to do. She's also said very clearly that she is not enamored of Islam, does not want to wear the hijab and does not want to go to pray. And so, of course, that puts her in a very dangerous situation in Saudi Arabia potentially with the government, in addition to her family.

KING: Hence, probably, the application for political asylum, which is less to do with family stuff and more to do with, is this person in danger in their country? - what kind of spirits is she in?

ROBERTSON: She's determined. She's frankly quite courageous. But she's tired.

KING: Yeah.

ROBERTSON: And she's hungry. She's locked herself in this room since about 8:30 in the morning Bangkok time. And so it is - it's been an all-day ordeal. And it's been highs and lows. There's been people at her door. There's been people trying to trick her, saying open the door. It's Human Rights Watch. Open the door. It's UNHCR. You know, there's all sorts of games being played.

KING: Which brings us to a big question - what is the government there in Bangkok saying? And what is the Saudi government saying at this point?

ROBERTSON: Well, the Saudi government is trying to claim that they have nothing to do with this and that this is all somebody else's doing. But the reality is it was their official who met the plane, you know, as she got off the plane and seized her passport. You know, why that official was allowed to walk around in a closed area of the Bangkok airport is beyond me. But that's happened. For the Thais, they're sort of changing their story now as the pressure comes on. The latest is that the immigration commissioner says he's not going to send her back. But, previously, he was saying yes. It's the family member. Why's she so scared? She should go back now.

KING: So you'll be keeping a close eye on this one, I imagine. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, thank you so much.

ROBERTSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.