Alqunun had been stopped when she attempted to flee from her family while they were all on vacation in Kuwait. She was hoping to make it to Australia. Things became difficult when she was stopped while in Bangkok. Officials reportedly took her passport and reported her to immigration authorities in Thailand. (For the record, Thai officials first reported they stopped the teenager because she didn’t have a return ticket or a hotel reservation. Later, they claimed it was because her parents filed a missing person report.)
Alqunun’s father was expected to arrive on Monday, as Thai immigration officials told the Associated Press. The idea, apparently, was to see if Alqunun would return with her father. This terrified Alqunun. As she told the Human Rights Watch, she alleges that she has been verbally and physically abused by male relatives. Specifically, she alleges that she’s survived beatings, death threats, and horrendous abuse, including once being trapped in her bedroom for six months after she cut her hair without permission from her male family members. In an interview with Reuters, held over texts and audio messages, Alqunun claims her family won’t let her travel, drive, and have been especially bad since she renounced Islam.
Alqunun had been hoping to escape her family since she was sixteen, but did not have an opportunity until her family reached Kuwait. Because Kuwait doesn’t have the same requirements for a male guardian’s consent in order to travel (as is the case in Saudi Arabia), she saw it as her chance to escape. In Saudi Arabia, “parental disobedience” and “harming the reputation of the kingdom” are extremely worrisome charges; should she be forced to return, she could be punished for her attempts to escape and face imprisonment.
Here are a handful of her now-viral tweets, proving her identity and expressing her fears:
On Monday, UNHCR officials finally met with Alqunun. Human rights officials will now evaluate her claims, which can take up to ten days. During this time, according to the New York Times, Alqunun will stay in Thailand. She isn’t seeking asylum in the United States, but her story is an important reminder of why asylum is a human right, and one the U.S. should never turn its back on.