Published: Wed, January 09, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Australia May Issue Visa for Saudi Woman Who Says She Fled Abuse

Australia May Issue Visa for Saudi Woman Who Says She Fled Abuse

Qunun said she planned to seek asylum in Australia, fearing she would be killed if repatriated by Thai immigration officials who stopped her at the airport.

In a brief statement, Australia's Department of Home Affairs said it would "consider this referral in the usual way".

The UNHCR representative in Thailand, Giuseppe de Vincentis, said in a statement that "it could take several days to process the case and determine next steps", but the agency did not comment on the details "for reasons of protection and confidentiality".

The woman, whose predicament went viral via her Twitter account, told Human Rights Watch that she had arrived at Bangkok's main airport on January 5 from Kuwait, and that her passport was seized, preventing her from traveling to Australia.

Later she sent me a two-word appeal on a Twitter direct message, saying "Hi Help!"

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 is now under the sovereignty of Thailand; no-one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere", he said.

The Australian government said it was monitoring the case closely.

Fortunately, the pressure of ordinary citizens using social media saved the life of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun who is today free and may soon be in Canada as our beloved fellow citizen, sister and daughter.

She was finally allowed to enter Thailand late on Monday after spending 48 hours at Bangkok airport, some of it barricaded in a transit lounge hotel room.

Even though Thailand has at least 100,000 refugees within its borders, the country is not a signatory to the UNHRC and has no legal protection to those who seek asylum.

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The 18-year-old Saudi Arabian woman is hoping to seek asylum overseas and barricaded herself inside a hotel in Bangkok to prevent being expelled by Thai authorities.

'The father and brother want to go and talk to Rahaf but the United Nations will need to approve such talk, ' General Surachate told reporters.

Al-Qunun has alleged many times that Saudi officials were involved in the seizure of her passport. "Thailand is a land of smiles".

Within hours of launching the petition it had secured thousands of signatures. "She was unhappy having to wear the hijab and being forced to pray", he added.

"If my family come, they will kill me", she said in a video archived on Twitter.

Ms Alqunun ran away from a family trip to Kuwait last week and flew to Thailand in the hope of reaching Australia to seek asylum.

"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.

Thai immigration chief Surachet Hakparn, speaking to journalists outside the Saudi Embassy after meeting with Saudi officials in Bangkok on Tuesday, said officials are concerned about Qunun's safety and well-being. It said the embassy is not communicating with the teenager, but is communicating with Thai authorities.

The latest incident comes against the backdrop of intense scrutiny on Saudi Arabia over the shocking murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi previous year, which has renewed criticism of the kingdom's rights record.

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

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