Saudi woman Rahaf al-Qunun: Australia would 'consider' asylum bid

Saudi woman Rahaf al-Qunun: Australia would 'consider' asylum bid

Saudi woman Rahaf al-Qunun: Australia would 'consider' asylum bid

When an 18 year old Saudi asylum seeker arrived in Bangkok she faced immediate deportation, but instead she is in the hands of the United Nations refugee agency, her social media savvy galvanising a global campaign that caught the Thai government flat-footed.

Australia said on Wednesday it would consider taking in a 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled to Thailand saying she feared her family, which she accused of abuse, would kill her.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun has documented her bid to flee her allegedly abusive family with minute-by-minute social media updates, intensifying the global spotlight on Saudi Arabia's rights record.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun arrived at Bangkok's main airport on a flight from Kuwait after running away from her family, who she alleges subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

"The girl has violated immigration and residency laws because she does not have a return ticket or a hotel reservation, and she does not have a tourism program", the statement read.

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.

"Any application by Ms al-Qunun for a humanitarian visa will be carefully considered once the UNHCR process has concluded", a Department of Home Affairs official told AFP news agency.

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

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun's case echoes that of another Saudi woman who was in transit to Australia in April 2017.

Alqunun's father - a senior Saudi official - and her brother, who she says often physically abused her, are now in Thailand.

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Australia will consider giving Ms Alqunun a humanitarian visa if the process finds she is a refugee, he said. Her Twitter account, created on January 6, soared to over 109,000 followers and #SaveRahaf was a trending hashtag.

A government source told The Australian that Ms Alqunun's tourist visa had not been revoked, despite claims, but said she would be refused entry to Australia because the visa did not reflect the true reason for her visit.

Saudi Arabia has strict social rules, including a requirement women have permission from a male "guardian" to travel.

Qunun's father told the UNHCR about his objections to her fleeing and would remain in Thailand until a decision was made, Surachate said, adding that this might come on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia's embassy in Thailand denied reports that Riyadh had requested her extradition.

Within hours, a campaign sprung up on Twitter dubbed #SaveRahaf. However, in repeated statements, including one issued today, the Saudi Embassy in Thailand said it is only monitoring her situation.

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. He said it was "too early to tell" if she will be granted asylum or refugee status. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, at right, on her way out of Suvarnabhumi Airport on Monday in Bangkok.

Canberra has hinted that it will likely grant her asylum.

"I wish you had taken her phone, it would have been better than [taking] her passport", a Saudi official said during the meeting, as quoted by Reuters.

The kingdom's human rights record has been under heavy scrutiny since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country's embassy in Istanbul a year ago.

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