Australia Considers Taking in Rahaf as UN Grants Refugee Status

Nellie Chapman
January 13, 2019

The U.N. refugee agency on Tuesday said it was investigating Qunun's case after she fled to Thailand saying she feared her family would kill her if she were sent back to Saudi Arabia.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun arrived at Bangkok's main airport on a flight from Kuwait after running away from her family, who she alleges subjected her to physical and psychological abuse. He said it was "too early to tell" if she will be granted asylum or refugee status.

When she refused and appealed to Thai immigration officials, she was escorted to a transit hotel.

Ms Alqunun garnered worldwide attention when she took her plight to social media this week, tweeting that she had "nothing to lose".

"Any application by Ms al-Qunun for a humanitarian visa will be carefully considered once the UNHCR process has concluded", a Department of Home Affairs official told AFP news agency.

Authorities in the kingdom insist it is a family matter although the embassy has been giving the case "care and attention" and it has been in contact with Ms Alqunun's father, a regional government official in the kingdom, "to inform him on her situation".

Her father and brother arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday, but Qunun "refused to see" them, according to Thai immigration police chief Surachate Hakparn, who has been caught up in the global firestorm since Qunun's arrival.

But Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun's father and brother would have to wait and see whether the United Nations refugee agency would allow them to see her, immigration chief Surachate Hakpan said.

She documented her arrival and subsequent detention in Bangkok on her smartphone, creating new Twitter and Periscope accounts where she received a deluge of supportive messages.

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

The teenager made a desperate plea for asylum after expressing fears her family would kill her if she were sent home.

Ms al-Qunun wrote of being in "real danger" if she was forced to return to her family. 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".

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch, said the move by Ms Alqunun's father was concerning. The Guardian confirmed on Monday Qunun had a valid three-month tourist visa for Australia, issued to her Saudi passport. Because in 2017, another Saudi Arabian woman, Dina Ali Lasloom, also tried to flee to Australia.

Her fate on arriving back in Saudi Arabia remains unknown. Alqunun's family was abusive, she said, even more so since she had renounced Islam.

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.

"The humanity shown to Rahaf must not be a one-off", said Hadid.

It comes at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen. "She is 18 years old, she has an Australian visa, and she has the right to travel where she wishes and no government should interfere in that". In the meantime, her al-Qunun has asked that the media and public continue to pressure officials to follow-through on securing her asylum.

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