UN says Saudi Arabia teen is refugee, Australia to consider settlement

Rahaf al-Qunun: Dad of Saudi refugee arrives in Bangkok Thailand | Daily Star

Rahaf al-Qunun: Dad of Saudi refugee arrives in Bangkok Thailand | Daily Star

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun arrived in Thailand on a flight from Kuwait after running away from her family, who she says subjected her to physical and psychological abuse. But her bravery has shone a light on the appalling treatment of women in Saudi Arabia - one of the world's most oppressive regimes.

Qunun has since tweeted that she felt safe "under UNHCR protection with the agreement of Thailand authorities." .

He said her father and brother were scheduled to arrive in Thailand yesterday evening and that he would coordinate with the agency to arrange the meeting.

As for providing security in light of Khashoggi's murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he said "that's the Thai government's job and I hope that's being looked into". She also said she had renounced her religion, Islam.

Qunun has refused to meet her father and brother who flew to Bangkok this week, Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said.

The Australian government teased the possibility of granting the young woman refugee status, saying Tuesday it was "pleased" the United Nations was assessing her claim.

While Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson has backed this statement, Abdullah al-Shuaibi, charge d'affaires at the Saudi embassy in Bangkok, denied this. She then barricaded herself inside airport's hotel room, refusing to leave until United Nations officials intervened on her behalf. "What's important is get her safe so Australia really needs to move quickly to get her out of Thailand".

Yet because Thailand has not ratified the U.N.'s 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, the main statues defining protections for refugees, Thai law provides little protection or respite to the vulnerable masses.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt told ABC TV on January 8 the government had successfully requested the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to process her case quickly.

A UNHCR representative told the AFP news agency that "the process is still ongoing".

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"The embassy also confirms that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia did not demand her deportation back to her country", the statement said.

The UNHCR issued a statement yesterday saying it would look into Ms Qunun's case "to assess her need for worldwide protection" and that "It could take several days to process the case and determine next steps". Gen. Surachate Hakparn (right) before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.

In Geneva, UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told reporters the process looking into Qunun's "asylum claim has started" and could take several days.

Australia has strict immigration policies, but Alqunun's case has received sympathetic attention.

On 6 January, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun - an 18-year-old Saudi Arabian woman - began sending messages on Twitter.

Even before the referral, Australian officials had been making positive noises about Alqunun's case. She was apparently on her way to Australia, where she meant to seek asylum.

Dubai-based human rights lawyer Rahda Stirling told 9 News that Alqunun's life could be in danger if she is repatriated to Saudi Arabia.

The case has highlighted the cause of women's rights in Saudi Arabia. "Eighteen-year-old Alqunun would likely fit into that category", said Majid. Several female Saudis fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum overseas in recent years and returned home. In 2017, Dina Lasloom, 24, was similarly attempting to seek asylum in Australia, escaping Saudi Arabia's guardianship laws, when she was stopped at an airport in Manila. They can't travel, marry, work, or even access healthcare without permission from a male relative. The restrictions last till death.

Rights groups say the system can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

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