Saudi teen Alqunun leaves Thailand for Canada to seek asylum

Clay Curtis
January 11, 2019

Miss al-Qunun's case has highlighted the cause of women's rights in Saudi Arabia.

The news began circulating and eventually Phil Robertson, the Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted out that al-Qunun needed access to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC).

Activists have called on Thai authorities to "show humanity" to Alaraibi in the same way that they had to Qunun.

Her online campaign was so successful that Saudi official Abdalelah Mohammed A.al-Shuaibi told Thai officials through a translator: "We wish they had confiscated her phone instead of her passport".

The saga of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun grabbed worldwide attention this week after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to her family, which denies any abuse.

She will be subject to Australian checks before she is granted a humanitarian visa, including character and security assessments.

Rahaf's swift use of Twitter saw her amass more than 100,000 followers within a week, highlighting her plight at a time when Saudi Arabia's human rights record is under heavy scrutiny following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi previous year.

Marise Payne, the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs, said on Thursday she raised her concerns over his continued detention with the Thai authorities during her trip to the country.

The decision to give haven to the 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun capped a almost week-long drama that highlighted the power of social media to call attention to her case and reverse initial plans by Thai officials to deport her back to Kuwait, where she fled her family while on holiday.

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Thai authorities eventually allowed her to enter the country on Monday evening and the United Nations refugee agency referred Rahaf to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement.

Last year Saudi women took to social media wearing their abayas - a loose, all-covering robe worn in public - inside out in 2018 to protest the dress code, which is strictly enforced by police.

Canada also offered asylum, the officer was quoted as saying, and was awaiting Qunun's decision.

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A Korean Air flight carrying Qunun left Bangkok for Seoul on Friday night at 11:37 p.m. Bangkok time, an airport official told Reuters.

However, the office of Canada's foreign minister said it could not confirm the 18-year-old had been granted asylum. Al-Araibi, however, faces a court trial in Thailand for extradition as requested by Bahrain for his role in anti-government protests. Surachate said that police could not confiscate her phone because she was not being detained and said that the Saudi diplomat's remark was "just an opinion" and "nothing to be taken seriously".

UNHCR says the teen is en route to Canada, and it is grateful for the government's decision to provide global protection and a "long-term solution for her there as a resettled refugee". Alqunun claims her life would be in grave danger if she were returned to Saudi Arabia and her family would kill her.

Ms Alqunun deleted her Twitter account today, with a friend citing death threats for the decision.

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