Matthew wrote a post earlier this week discussing how he would feel more comfortable in Saudi Arabia than he would in Thailand following an incident with a Saudi national refugee transiting Bangkok to seek asylum. I see it differently.
****UPDATE: This morning, the subject of this post accepted an offer from Canada to live there as requested by the UN.
The Situation in Question
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, an 18-year female Saudi Arabian national fled her family and home country while on vacation in Kuwait to seek asylum in Australia and reportedly to avoid an arranged marriage. Thai officials originally intended to return her to Kuwait as a result of not having sufficient funds for travel nor a return ticket though she was connecting and not attempting to enter the Kingdom of Thailand. Saudi Arabian officials interdicted and attempted to return al-Qunun to Kuwait and ultimately to Saudi Arabia against her will despite objections that in so doing her life would be in danger.
Al-Qunun claimed to have been previously held by her family against her will for cutting her hair. The perceived danger is likely genuine.
“In 2017, Dina Lasloom, 24, was similarly attempting to seek asylum in Australia when she was stopped at an airport in Manila. She was forced to return to Saudi Arabia and has not been publicly heard from since.” – Washington Post
The Aggressor Was Saudi Arabian Officials, Not Thai Officials
Citizens often violate the law or societal norms of the country they’re fleeing when seeking asylum elsewhere. Whether a North Korean defector, an Eastern European Jew in the second world war, or the Vietnamese following the Vietnam War with the US – all have flouted their permissions to leave the country and likely many others but were welcomed in their new countries.
It was Saudi Arabian officials that attempted to intercept the traveler en route to Australia via Bangkok. The “diplomat” (I’m not sure they’ve earned that honorable title) attempted to enforce Saudi laws on foreign soil and remove the asylum seeker. This is the second notable time in recent months where Saudi officials have ignored international law to solve problems that have arisen outside their borders.
Thai officials, however, were not the aggressors in the situation. They did not intend to disrupt the asylum seeker’s travel outside of published reasons to deny entry into the Kingdom. It was the strong-arming of the Saudi official that committed the act of aggression. It should be noted that al-Qunun’s father is a senior governmental official.
Thai Officials May Have Acted Improperly
I have a theory regarding the process but have not found evidence to support or counter my premonitions (if you have information I do not, please list your source in the comments.) My theory is that a well-connected Saudi official approached lower level Thai immigration officials, explained that the passenger was:
- a criminal (she technically was according to their law)
- traveling without proper documentation (which would have been permission, as she had her passport)
- should be deported as a matter of priority
- she did not have a return ticket
- she did not carry sufficient cash (something Matthew has written about before)
If the woman explained she was seeking asylum (I have no doubt that she did,) I doubt the Thai officials followed their own (and international) refugee protocol. The question I have is whether or not they were given accurate information.
What is the procedure if a criminal is fleeing a country and that country requests extradition before they have been cleared through immigration?
Ultimately, Thai Officials Got It Right
The ordeal was harrowing for the woman, brave enough to seek asylum only to have to trap herself in a hotel room to avoid a return to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I am sure she felt her life was in jeopardy, it probably still is wherever she ultimately ends up. In the end, by the extreme measures of the traveler, she was able to demand and has now received United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees support. Thai officials are also providing support and have been supportive of refugees in the past.
It was not the Saudi officials that relented and dropped their pursuit of the matter, it was the Thai officials that took a stand. They made mistakes, sure, but in the end, the woman was able to receive the protection and assistance she needed.
I don’t judge anyone on the mistakes they make, but rather how they handle it. If Thai officials made a mistake but rectified their error, there’s no love lost for Thailand but there should be for Saudi Arabia. I didn’t feel unsafe when traveling to the Philippines though they didn’t respond as the Thai did in the aforementioned example.
Even During Turmoil, I’ve Always Felt Safe in Thailand
My wife and I love Thailand. We have been there during coups, riots, and rule by a military junta. We have always felt safe in Thailand. In fact, last summer, my wife and daughter spent five weeks living in the Kingdom and I mileage ran back and forth to join them. They felt safe and so did I, 8,000 miles away on the other side of the world.
What do you think? Would you feel safer in Thailand or Saudi Arabia? Is Matthew right or am I? Is it something in between?