Published: Sun, January 13, 2019
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Thailand: Amnesty welcomes Saudi woman's refugee protection

Thailand: Amnesty welcomes Saudi woman's refugee protection

The 18-year-old arrived in Thailand Sunday on a flight from Kuwait, where she managed to run away from her family, who she says subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

UNHCR Global Spokesperson Babar Baloch confirmed that the teen had "left the airport to a safe place in the city", noting that she would be further interviewed by agency officials after having some rest.In an earlier statement on Monday, Surachate said Thai immigration stopped Qunun because Saudi officials informed them that she had fled her family."Thailand is a land of smiles".

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said al-Qunun had renounced Islam, which puts her at "serious risk" of prosecution in Saudi Arabia.

The decision marks a significant victory for the 18-year-old, who is now in Bangkok where she says Thai authorities attempted to block her from travelling to Australia to claim asylum.

Qunun has said she believes she will be imprisoned or killed if sent back, and that her family is so strict it once locked her in a room for six months for cutting her hair.

Thai immigration officials and Saudi diplomats met at the kingdom's Bangkok embassy on Tuesday.

Her urgent pleas for help over Twitter from an airport hotel room garnered tens of thousands of followers and the attention of the UN's refugee agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

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Before the UNHCR's referral, Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia would consider giving Alqunun a humanitarian visa if the UNHCR process found her to be a refugee.

It noted that Hakeem al-Araibi, a refugee and "torture survivor" from Bahrain granted residence in Australia, has been detained by Thailand since November awaiting a hearing on a Bahraini extradition request.

Alqunun refused to meet with her father, who arrived in the Thai capital on Tuesday.

Senator Payne is in Thailand, where Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun is waiting for the Australian government to process her application for refugee settlement. But the Thai government has also said that it wants to protect refugees, and immigration officials have said they do not intend to send al-Qunun back. "This should be the standard for any individual who claims that his or her life is in danger".

Ms Qunun's family could not be reached to respond to her allegations of abuse.

General Surachate said the father denied trying to force his daughter into an arranged marriage.

"There are a lot of women in Saudi Arabia like us", who still languish under the country's repressive male guardianship system, SH says. She had meant to flee to Australia.

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"They threaten to kill me and prevent me from continuing my education", she said.

But Saudi Arabia's charge d'affairs in Bangkok, Abdullah al-Shuaibi, denied Saudi authorities were involved.

"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. However, in repeated statements, the Saudi embassy in Bangkok said it was only monitoring her situation.

Under rules agreed at the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention, member states are banned from sending someone with refugee status back to the country they are fleeing.

Within hours, a campaign sprung up on Twitter dubbed #SaveRahaf.

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

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