Wednesday, 23 January, 2019

Australia considering resettlement for runaway Saudi woman

Rahaf al-Qunun: Dad of Saudi refugee arrives in Bangkok Thailand | Daily Star Saudi teenager could escape to Australia as government said it would 'carefully consider' her claim
Pablo Mccormick | 13 January, 2019, 08:24

She had hoped to travel to Australia where she has friends before she was detained at the Bangkok airport this past weekend and threatened with deportation.

"She said very clearly that she has suffered both physical and psychological abuse".

The Australian government previously said it would carefully consider granting a visa to Qunun if she is found to be a refugee by the United Nations.

She said: "They will kill me".

Similar to Alqunun, Alaraibi was detained at Suvarnabhumi Airport while leaving after honeymooning in Thailand.

"[Ms] Rahaf is not a political asylum case", he insisted.

The Australian embassy had contacted the Thai government and the UNHCR's Bangkok office to confirm Ms Alqunun could access the refugee process.

Ms Alqunun will be subject to Australian security and character checks as the government examines her suitability for refugee settlement.

She escaped from them in Kuwait on Saturday by boarding a flight to Bangkok, intending to fly from here to Australia and apply for asylum.

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Thai immigration officials initially planned to send her back to Kuwait where her family lives, but the teenager barricaded herself into her hotel room where she began to plead her case on social media.

Ms Alqunun is now in the care of United Nations officials who say it will take about five days to process her request for assistance after she said she feared her family would kill her if she were sent home.

Al-Qunun is now in the care of the UN's refugee agency in Bangkok, which is processing her case.

Indications from Canberra suggest Alqunun may receive a sympathetic hearing.

It added that it would "consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals".

The UN's refugee agency said on Tuesday it was investigating the case of the teenager.

She claims she will be killed if she returns to Saudi Arabia. Because in 2017, another Saudi Arabian woman, Dina Ali Lasloom, also tried to flee to Australia.

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said Qunun had renounced Islam, which puts her at "serious risk" of prosecution in Saudi Arabia.

Some female Saudi runaways fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum overseas in recent years.

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"Everybody was watching. When social media works, this is what happens", said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, of the global outcry. Her Twitter account, created on January 6, soared to over 109,000 followers and #SaveRahaf was a trending hashtag. Saudis tell Thais they should have taken girl's phone to prevent Twitter campaign.

Saudi women runaways have increasingly turned to social media to amplify their calls for help.

The father, who name has not been released, is a governor in Saudi Arabia, Lt. Gen. Surachate Hakparn said.

After a tense standoff in the airport hotel, where Ms Alqunun barricaded herself in her room, Thai authorities allowed UNHCR representatives to meet her. Following global attention for her live-tweeting of her situation on 7 January she was granted temporary stay in Thailand under United Nations protection.

Alqunun alleged several times that Saudi officials were involved in seizing her passport.

A Tuesday statement from the Saudi Embassy in Thailand denied interfering in Alqunun's case, and said it was only monitoring her situation.

Her father is now in Bangkok and asking to speak with Qunun, Thai authorities said.

Saudi Arabia's human rights record has come under intense scrutiny since the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in October.

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