United Nations urges Australia to take in fleeing Saudi girl as refugee

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun

This handout picture taken and released by Thai Immigration Bureau on January 7, 2019 shows 18-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qanun, middle, being escorted by the Thai immigration officer and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees officials at the Suvarnabhumi global airport in Bangkok.

She said she would be imprisoned or worse if she was sent back to Saudi Arabia, telling Human Rights Watch she was fleeing abuse from her family, including beatings and death threats from male relatives, who forced her to remain in her room for six months for cutting her hair.

Rahaf al-Qunun, 18, flew to Thailand on Saturday from Kuwait, where her plan was to continue to Australia and lodge an asylum claim.

The Saudi embassy in Bangkok said it "did not demand her deportation" and that the case was "a family affair".

She refused to leave her room during a two-day standoff where she used social media to plea for help, demanding that she meet with United Nations officials.

After Qunun learned of her deportation, she locked herself in a hotel room inside Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport to avoid her unwilled return to a family that would allegedly kill her, following her repudiation of Islam.

The Australian government said that it will evaluate al-Qunun's case according to its standard procedures, just like it does with other United Nations referrals, and declined to make further comment.

The spokesperson said the government had "serious concerns on this matter and the need for Ms Al-Qunun's claim to be assessed expeditiously".

The Thai immigration chief said on Monday the embassy had alerted Thai authorities to the case, and said that the woman had run away from her parents and they feared for her safety.

Al-Qunun is now in the care of the UN's refugee agency in Bangkok, which is processing her case. With the help of friends in Australia, Sweden and Canada - who tweeted on her behalf while she slept - her newly formed Twitter account served as a nonstop plea to Western countries to grant her asylum.

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She said no one reported that incident exclusively out of fear, and she believes there's been other abuse throughout the years. The woman, being in a vegetative state, has no means of defending herself or even letting people know she was pregnant.

Local Thai media reported that Al-qunun's father traveled to Bangkok and met with refugee agency officials, but was told that his daughter refused to see him.

In a separate interview with Reuters, Robertson revealed that the teen's father and brother have arrived in Bangkok and are demanding to meet her. Local politicians and activists have been calling on the prime minister to provide al-Qunun with emergency travel documents and let her in as soon as possible.

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

Ms Alqunun's case has again highlighted the cause of women's rights in Saudi Arabia. She was referred to Australia for resettlement.

In 2017, a young Saudi woman Dina Ali Lasloom was forcibly returned to her homeland after she was detained at Manila airport in the Philippines, and has since reportedly disappeared. "I want asylum", she said.

Immigration Minister David Coleman has been contacted for comment.

"AlAraibi was granted permanent residency by the Australian government in recognition of his status as a refugee", Payne said in a statement, saying that she would seek his safe return to Australia.

Qunun has since tweeted that she felt safe "under UNHCR protection with the agreement of Thailand authorities." . However, in repeated statements, including one issued Tuesday, the Saudi Embassy in Thailand said it is only monitoring her situation.

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

"It would have been better if they had confiscated her mobile instead of her passport".

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