Australia considering resettlement for fleeing Saudi woman

Clay Curtis
January 12, 2019

A representative from the Australian government said that they are monitoring the case "closely", noting that the claims made by Qunun, "that she may be harmed if returned to Saudi Arabia are deeply concerning." . She began by boarding a plane by herself to Thailand, but the plan quickly spiraled out of control.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne is due in Bangkok on Thursday for a visit arranged earlier, during which she will discuss the case of Bahrain footballer Hakeem AlAraibi, who has refugee status in Australia but is in jail in Thailand.

"The UNHCR has referred Ms Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement", the Department of Home Affairs said in a statement.

The department said it will "consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals". 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".

In a Twitter update on Wednesday, Ms al-Qunun thanked her 107,000 followers for their "support in my hard psychological situation" and said that she had "regained my strength" after a dramatic few days. Go on social media now and watch accounts of so many young Saudis saying, 'Rahaf, you've shown us that we can do this! She told Reuters she was fleeing her family's "physical, emotional and verbal abuse", adding she was restricted from travel and continuing her education. 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. She feared for her life if forced to return to Saudi Arabia.

Video footage posted on Twitter by a Saudi human rights activist appeared to show a Saudi official complaining that Thai authorities should have confiscated Qunun's smartphone.

After Ms Alqunun barricaded herself inside her Bangkok hotel room, her pleas for help over Twitter garnered tens of thousands of followers, and the attention of the UNHCR.

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Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun arrived in Bangkok on Saturday, January 5, appealing for asylum and her application was fast tracked for security reasons, partly because of the arrival of her father and brother.

Thailand has "rapidly lost its reputation for being a safe haven for refugees and asylum seekers", Andrea Giorgetta, Asia director for the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), told TIME. "The Saudi charge d'affaires said he is satisfied and expressed confidence on the work of Thai immigration, of the Thai government, and of the Foreign Ministry yesterday".

Thailand's immigration police chief Lieutenant General Surachate Hakparn told media on Wednesday Ms Alqunun's father and brother arrived together in Bangkok on Tuesday but Ms Alqunun refused to meet them.

"Canada is very concerned by and watching closely the situation of Ms. Rahaf al-Qunun", said Stefano Maron, a spokesman for Global Affairs Canada.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the activist said there had been instances where Saudi women runaways were stopped by authorities in Hong Kong or the Philippines en route to Australia or New Zealand.

In a since-deleted tweet, Ms Alqunun's friends spoke about her concern for her 11-year-old sister's welfare. Instead, the Kingdom has become known for its susceptibility to pressure from global powers to return high-profile refugees, bowing either to economic imperatives or promises "to reciprocate the favor and...send back Thai political exiles", Giorgetta says. Qunun then used social media to seek help from different countries. She was reportedly taken to a detention center in the Saudi capital and little more regarding her location or condition is known.

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