UNHCR finds Australia-bound Saudi teen to be refugee

Rahaf Alqunun left says she fled abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia

Rahaf Alqunun left says she fled abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia

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 tried to block a young woman's effort to flee her family and seek asylum overseas.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, pictured at Bangkok airport, says she "wants to be free" away from Saudi Arabia.

"The government has made representations to the Thai government and the Bangkok office of the UNHCR about its serious concerns on this matter and the need for Ms.al-Qunun's claim to be assessed expeditiously", the statement from Home Affairs said.

She is staying in a Bangkok hotel while the UNHCR processes her application for refugee status, before she can seek asylum in a third country.

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 worldwide airport in Bangkok.

According to Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch, who has been in close contact with Rahaf, she was fleeing physical abuse by her male relatives, in particular by her father and her brother.

"She does not wish to go back and we will not force her". Gen. Surachate Hakparn, the young woman's father and brother were due to arrive soon in Bangkok, but it would be Alqunun's decision whether to meet with them. She was planning to seek asylum in Australia but was intercepted at an airport transit zone in Bangkok.

The Thai government allowed her to enter the country temporarily under the protection of the UNHCR while her case was being assessed.

Her ordeal at the Bangkok airport riveted social media as she posted videos and constantly updated her followers while barricading herself in her hotel room.

He said her case would be considered by United Nations referral in the usual way.

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Rahaf Al-Qunun is a young Saudi woman studying at a local university traveled to Thailand via Kuwait in an attempt to seek asylum in Australia. "This should be the standard for any individual who claims that his or her life is in danger".

Within hours of launching the petition it had secured thousands of signatures.

Saudi Arabia remains one of the world's most repressive countries for women.

Speaking to Reuters via text and audio messages she alleged her family had threatened to kill her.

"We are very grateful that the Thai authorities did not send back Ms. Al-qunun against her will and are extending protection for her", UNHCR Thailand country representative Giuseppe de Vicentiis was quoted as saying in a statement released on Tuesday morning.

The 18-year-old Saudi national said she had "left her religion" and begged for shelter from either Canada, the US, Australia or the United Kingdom in a series of frantic twitter posts.

It comes at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.

"What is truly appalling is how the Saudi Arabian government has acted in sending an official to physically seize her passport from her in Bangkok airport global transit", Robertson said.

"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not asked for her extradition".

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