Published: Wed, January 09, 2019
Worldwide | By Angelina Lucas

UNHCR finds Australia-bound Saudi teen to be refugee

UNHCR finds Australia-bound Saudi teen to be refugee

The UN is examining the asylum appeal of a young Saudi woman who fled her family and is afraid of getting killed if sent home.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun on her mobile phone as she sat barricaded in a hotel room in Thailand's worldwide airport in Bangkok on Monday.

"The UNHCR has referred Ms Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement", the Department of Home Affairs said in a statement.

Thai officials confiscated the 18-year-old's passport when she flew into Bangkok.

But when she arrived in Bangkok she said a Saudi diplomat met her at the airport and tricked her into handing over her passport and ticket, saying he would secure a visa.

At about 1am on Monday morning, Ms Qunun posted a video of herself pushing a table to barricade her hotel room door.

Alqunun's father, a Saudi government official, and brother arrived in Bangkok on the evening of January 8 and immediately demanded to see her.

Thai officials had tried to force her take a flight to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia scheduled for the morning of January 7.

After a day of insisting that Ms Qunun must be sent back under Thai law, Mr Surachate said she would not be immediately expelled since she could be in danger and he would meet United Nations officials to discuss her case. "We have no idea what he is going to do. whether he will try to find out where she is and go harass her", Robertson said. "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".

The teenager, Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, arrived in Bangkok on the weekend appealing for asylum. She was planning to seek asylum in Australia but was intercepted at an airport transit zone in Bangkok.

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Instead the state is run by a coalition of left-wing parties which have said they will enforce the court ruling. He said he would only do so if first-time devotees decide not to visit him - which has never happened.

Saudi's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that its embassy in Bangkok was in contact with the father "as it's the Embassy's role to inform him on her situation and the date of her return".

"I believe the father and brother of al-Qunun want to give information to the UNHCR for it to have both sides of the story".

Since Australia has expressed concern in the past about women's rights in Saudi Arabia, it should "come forward and offer protection for this young woman", Pearson said.

The Department for Home Affairs said it was "pleased" at the developments and had made representations to the Thai government about its "serious concerns on this matter and the need for Alqunun's claim to be assessed expeditiously".

Even though Thailand has at least 100,000 refugees within its borders, the country is not a signatory to the UNHRC and has no legal protection to those who seek asylum. She alleged that she was being subjected to physical and psychological abuse by her family.

"She's an adult woman who has escaped Saudi Arabia's repressive and discriminatory "guardianship" laws and these men must recognize the rules have changed", he said, adding it is "solely her decision" whether or not to meet them.

By early Sunday afternoon, Mr Robertson had notified the United Nations refugee agency in Thailand and several foreign embassies about the unfolding case, and they began to contact Thai authorities.

The immigration police released photos of Surachate and his team sitting down with Saudi embassy charge d'affaires Abdalelah Mohammed Alsheaiby.

Saudi Arabia's embassy in Thailand denied reports that Riyadh had requested her extradition. Like Alqunun, she had set her sights on Australia and reached out for help on social media.

"She is now under the sovereignty of Thailand; no-one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere", he said.

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