United Nations asks Australia to consider Saudi teen for 'refugee resettlement'

Arturo Kim
January 10, 2019

According to 9 News, the Australian embassy had contacted the Thai government and the UNHCR's Bangkok office to confirm Alqunun could apply for refugee status.

In Saudi Arabia, she would not be able to travel overseas without the permission of a male guardian, so Qanun took the opportunity during a family visit to Kuwait and boarded a flight to Bangkok with the intention of reaching Australia.

Australia is also considering resettling the woman, who arrived in Bangkok on a flight from Kuwait on Saturday, and planned to continue to Australia, where she held a tourist visa.

Qunun arrived at the Thai capital's main airport on a flight from Kuwait over the weekend, after running away from her family.

Qunun has since tweeted that she felt safe "under UNHCR protection with the agreement of Thailand authorities." .

The Department of Home Affairs confirmed on Wednesday the United Nations refugee agency had referred Ms Alqunun's case to Australia for consideration.

The department said that it will...

"If she is found to be a refugee, then we will give very, very, very serious consideration to a humanitarian visa", Health Minister Greg Hunt told public broadcaster ABC.

"Recall - adult women [are] not free to travel without [a] guardian's permission", tweeted Human Rights Watch's Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson. "Just two days ago, she was barricaded in a hotel room fighting for her life - and now we see this wonderful and astonishing turn of events". Author Mona Eltahawy hopes this will "start a revolution in Saudi Arabia".

Other Saudi women in recent years have tried to flee their families alleging abuse, but have had less success than Alqunun. "I think there are many cases like this that go unreported".

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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.

Surachate discussed her case on Tuesday with Saudi Charge d'Affaires in Thailand Abdalelah Mohammed A. Alsheaiby.

Within hours, a campaign sprang up on Twitter, spread by a loose network of activists around the world, prompting the Thai government to reverse a decision to force the young woman onto a plane that would return her to her family.

"Instead of promoting tourism and attracting investors, our diplomatic missions chase after runaway girls and then they are surprised by the media's view of the political catastrophes that strike the country", said one Twitter user.

Hathloul was placed under a travel ban, warned to stay off social media and finally rounded up as part of a crackdown on women's rights advocates last summer.

Speaking after the meeting, Gen Surachate said the talk were satisfactory.

Rahaf al-Qunun barricaded herself in a Bangkok hotel room, documented on a viral Twitter page.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stepped in to offer Alqunun protection so she can apply for refugee status and apply for asylum in a third country. "The embassy considers this issue a family matter".

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, flew to Bangkok Saturday to escape what she said was an abusive family.

In 2017, a Saudi woman who sought asylum in Australia, and said she feared violence from any relatives who came to bring her back home, was stopped on a layover in the Philippines and returned to Riyadh. Khashoggi, who wrote critically of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in columns for The Washington Post, had been living in self-imposed exile before Saudi agents killed and dismembered him inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

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