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United Nations refers Saudi teenager to Australia for refugee resettlement

10 January, 2019, 11:40 | Author: Ted Wilson
  • Saudi Runaway Woman

Gen. Surachate Hakparn (right) before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.

"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.

Alqunun arrived in Bangkok on a flight from Kuwait on Saturday, and planned to continue to Australia, where she held a tourist visa.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport from Kuwait on the weekend after slipping away from a family holiday.

She refused to meet with her father and brother who arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday.

Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn conceded that Twitter can "attract the interest of the global community" but denied authorities were swayed by Rahaf's social media barrage.

Saudi teenager Rahaf Alqunun's first reaction to the news Australia might resettle her was disbelief, then emojis.

"He has 10 children".

The father, whose name has not been released, said he believes his daughter fled because she felt neglected.

Qunun's desperate tweets ricocheted across social media with the #SaveRahaf hashtag drawing an outpouring of support but also the bile of some hardliners in her native country.

Upon landing, she says her passport was taken by a man whose business card she posted to Twitter, which identified him as Ali Alanazi, the local security supervisor for Kuwait Airways.

Australia says it is considering granting a Saudi who fled from her family refugee resettlement based on referral by the United Nations.

Fearing she would be killed if handed back to her family, Ms al-Qunun posted Twitter updates on her detention in an appeal for help from worldwide authorities.

The Department of Home Affairs in Australia confirmed the decision by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in a statement on Wednesday.

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Indications from Canberra suggest Alqunun may receive a sympathetic hearing.

Mr Hunt said the government would give "very, very serious consideration to a humanitarian visa" for the teenager if she was found to be a refugee.

The case has drawn fresh global attention to Saudi's guardianship system, whereby women must have permission from a male relative to work, marry, and travel.

Other Saudi women in recent years have tried to flee their families alleging abuse, but have had less success than Alqunun. Pakistani religious minorities, Turkish and Cambodian dissidents, and Chinese activists have also been refouled from Thailand, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The influence of the Internet on Alqunun's case was noted by several human rights advocates.

The U.N. refugee agency has referred a young Saudi woman to Australia for consideration on January 9 following an assessment which deemed that she is a refugee. "I think there are many cases like this that go unreported".

Ms Alqunun is now in the care of the UNHCR, who will decide if the visit will be allowed.

Surachate discussed Alqunun's situation on Tuesday with Saudi Charge d'Affaires in Thailand Abdalelah Mohammed A. Alsheaiby.

As the hashtag #SaveRahaf spread on Twitter, it also showed the vast power of social media.

The turnaround in her case, from imminent deportation to possible resettlement in a third country, has largely been credited to a social media campaign that the young woman and some of her friends launched largely on Twitter.

Ms Alqunun fled to Thailand saying she feared her family, which she accused of abuse, would kill her.

Rights group Amnesty International said Thai authorities should "show humanity" to AlAraibi the same way they had to Qunun.

Renunciation of Islam, known as apostasy, is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.

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