BANGKOK — A young Saudi woman who barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to avoid deportation was granted refugee status Wednesday by the United Nations refugee agency, her friends and supporters said, clearing the way for an asylum request.
The woman, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, had said she feared her relatives would kill her if she was forced to return to them. She escaped from her family in Kuwait on Saturday by boarding a flight to Bangkok, intending to fly from there to Australia and apply for asylum. But Thai immigration officials blocked her from entering the country and threatened to deport her.
After a tense 48-hour standoff that was followed around the world on social media, the Thai Immigration Bureau agreed to let her leave the airport under the protection of the United Nations agency, also known as UNHCR.
Now that the agency has granted her refugee status, the next step will be to find a country that will agree to take her in on an urgent basis. Australia’s Department of Home Affairs said in a statement on Wednesday that the United Nations had referred Ms. Alqunun’s case to Australia for possible refugee settlement.
Officials from the United Nations refugee agency could not be reached for comment. They said earlier that they could not discuss individual cases.