United Nations refers Saudi teen to Australia to be treated as a refugee

United Nations refers Saudi teen to Australia to be treated as a refugee

Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Al-Qunun will instead have a chance to make her asylum case to the United Nations refugee agency.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, was planning to fly to the country on a tourist visa and apply for asylum but was detained by Thai authorities at Bangkok airport on Sunday.

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.

Upon arriving to Bangkok, she was met by a Saudi diplomat who seized her passport which meant that she does not meet the Thai visa requirements. "I think this will be fair to both sides", he said. She boarded a plane in Kuwait, hoping to seek asylum in Australia, but was intercepted at an airport transit zone in Bangkok, Thailand.

Lawmakers and activists in Australia and Britain urged their governments to grant asylum to al-Qunun, who was finally allowed by Thailand to enter the country yesterday.

Al-Qunun alleged several times that Saudi officials were involved in seizing her passport.

Thailand's immigration police chief met Tuesday with officials from the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok, as Saudi Arabia tried to distance itself from accusations that it attempted to block a young woman's effort to flee from her family and seek asylum overseas.

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 agency said in a statement that it required five days to process the girl's request.

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He told Australia's ABC that he was concerned about the arrival of Alqunun's father in Thailand. "They will take me to Saudi Arabia and my father will kill me because he is so angry", she said.

After publicising her case via social media, saying she feared for her safety if made to return home to her family, she was placed in the care of UNHCR workers as her bid for refugee status was considered, leading to her referral to Australia on Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch called on the Australian government to allow Alqunun's entry into that country. Those women and the men who are fighting for women's rights activists who are in prison today in Saudi Arabia, they are the leaders - the vanguard of a revolution that will free Saudi women... by ending once and for all the guardianship system which is the foundation of patriarchy in Saudi Arabia...

Thai immigration officials had initially said she should return to Kuwait.

"(I was) doing my best to get attention to her because I could not live with myself if she was real and I ignored it", Ms Eltahawy told Reuters in an e-mail.

Friends of Saudi woman Ms Alqunun claim she was nearly forced onto a flight from Thailand back to Kuwait despite seeking asylum in Australia.

"When it became clear that she wasn't going to leave, I decided it was important to stay and have someone documenting what was going on", Ms McNeill said.

Her father and brother arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday evening and have asked to see Alqunun.

Global pressure has mounted on Thai authorities to keep Alqunun safe and to ensure she isn't forcibly returned to the Saudi kingdom, which has been subject to worldwide condemnation over the killing of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

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