One step closer to Australia for Saudi teen Rahaf Alqunun

One step closer to Australia for Saudi teen Rahaf Alqunun

The United Nations has found that a teenage woman who fled Saudi Arabia to Thailand is a legitimate refugee and has asked Australia to take her in, officials in Canberra said Wednesday (Jan 9).

Rahaf al-Qunun has said she fears her family will kill her if she was forced to return home.

The embassy - and Thai officials - earlier also said Qunun was stopped by Thai authorities in Bangkok because she did not have a return ticket, a hotel reservation or an itinerary to show she was a tourist, which all appeared to have raised a red flag about the reasons for her trip.

The official did not confirm or deny if the visa had been revoked, but said it would make no difference to her bid to reach Australia.

But Alqunun barricaded herself in her airport hotel room.

The minister said the matter would be resolved "in due course", but said it was up to the 18-year-old if she wanted to apply to come to Australia while her case is determined.

Qunun said she had been planning to seek asylum in Australia but was stopped by Thai immigration officials upon her landing on Sunday, reports Agence France-Presse.

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun's case echoes that of another Saudi woman who was in transit to Australia in April 2017.

In Bangkok, Thailand's immigration police chief said that Ms Alqunun's father and brother arrived together in Bangkok on Tuesday but Ms Alqunun refused to meet them.

"The Australian government is pleased that Ms Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun is having her claim for protection assessed by the UNHCR", a spokesperson for Australia's Department of Home Affairs told NPR on Tuesday.

Her extraordinary use of social media to highlight her plight had managed to spark an worldwide outcry and #SaveRahaf campaign within hours of her detention, attracting human rights activists and diplomats to advocate on her behalf. In interviews she claimed she could be killed. Surachate said that police could not confiscate her phone because she was not being detained and said that the Saudi diplomat's remark was "just an opinion" and "nothing to be taken seriously". "We are very grateful that the Thai authorities did not send back (Qunun) against her will and are extending protection to her".

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Her fate on arriving back in Saudi Arabia remains unknown. It said: "I am the girl who escaped Kuwait to Thailand".

A United Nations spokesperson told NPR that the refugee agency has had no contact with either family member but that the father and son are communicating with Thai authorities to try to meet with Alqunun.

Amnesty International's Middle East director of campaigns Samah Hadid said Rahaf's story "became an inspiration to millions worldwide", but added that Thailand has often "breached their responsibilities" to asylum seekers and refugees.

She was given her passport back and Thai authorities confirmed she had been granted temporary entry to the country.

He was speaking after meeting Abdalelah Mohammed Alsheaiby, charge d'affaires at Saudi Arabia's embassy in Bangkok, while discussing Thailand's stance on al-Qunun's much-publicised case.

For more than 24 hours she fed global media, rights campaigners and a concerned public a stream of dramatic videos and descriptions of her ordeal.

Saudi Arabia's human rights record has been under heavy scrutiny since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi previous year.

"We don't know whether he is going to try to get the embassy to do that".

The Australian Department of Home Affairs said they would "carefully consider" any application by the 18-year-old once a decision is made, which is expected to happen in the next five days.

Lawmakers and activists in Australia and Britain have urged their governments to grant asylum to Qunun.

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