International Support for Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun

After overwhelming international support for 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, the Thai authorities have apparently changed direction. Maj Gen Surachate Hakcharn said around 4 pm today that Thailand will no longer try to deport her against her will, saying that “we won’t send someone to their death.” He also announced that representatives from the UNHCR would be able to meet with her at 5 pm.

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun said she was fleeing abuse from her family and fears that she will be in grave danger if she returns to Saudi Arabia. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other right groups and international news agencies are calling for Thai officials to allow her to travel to Australia instead of repatriating her.  She was finally allowed to speak to UNHCR representatives at around 6 pm. Melissa Fleming, UNHCR Chief of Communications, said on her Twitter account that the UNHCR Bangkok Protection Team is, as of 6.24 PM, interviewing Rahaf to assess her need for international protection and to find a solution. However, Ms Fleming said that, for reasons of confidentiality and protection, UNHCR will not be in a position to comment about the meeting or the outcome.

Thailand has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and therefore does not recognize the status of refugees, but is a party to the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It thus has an obligation not to return anyone to a territory where they face a risk of being subjected to torture or other threats of serious human rights violations. The kingdom has in the past been the subject of international criticism as it has, on several occasions, repatriated refugees and asylum seekers to their countries of origin, where their rights and safety are threatened. In 2015, Thailand reportedly deported back to China activists Jiang Yefei and Dong Guangping, who were registered as refugees by the UN. In December 2018, the Thai authorities also detained footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, a Bahraini living in Australia who has been granted refugee status, while he was traveling in Thailand with his family, and threatened to deport him back to Bahrain, the country from which he fled.