Published: Sun, January 13, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Australia considering resettlement for runaway Saudi woman

Australia considering resettlement for runaway Saudi woman

Thai officials tried to make the 18-year-old board a flight back to Kuwait and on to Saudi Arabia on Monday but she refused, saying she fearing she would be killed by her father and brothers after renouncing Islam.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR referred her case to Australia for her possible resettlement as a refugee, Australia's Department of Home Affairs said in a statement to CNN.

Alqunun said she was fleeing abuse from her family, including beatings and death threats from male relatives, who forced her to remain in her room for six months for cutting her hair.

Surachate discussed her case on Tuesday with Saudi Charge d'Affaires in Thailand Abdalelah Mohammed A. Alsheaiby.

After a tense standoff in the airport hotel, where Ms Alqunun barricaded herself in her room, Thai authorities allowed UNHCR representatives to meet her.

As public pressure heightened, an Australian minister appeared to go beyond Canberra's initial bureaucratic promise to consider her case if and when United Nations experts judge her fear of mistreatment justified.

Thailand initially said it would deport her at the request of Saudi embassy officials, barring her from travelling on to Australia where Qunun said she had meant to claim asylum.

It noted that Hakeem al-Araibi, a refugee and "torture survivor" from Bahrain granted residence in Australia, has been detained by Thailand since November awaiting a hearing on a Bahraini extradition request.

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Prior to the referral, health minister Greg Hunt said Australia would consider giving Ms al-Qunun a humanitarian visa if she was found to be a refugee.

Her extraordinary use of social media to highlight her plight had managed to spark an global outcry and #SaveRahaf campaign within hours of her detention, attracting human rights activists and diplomats to advocate on her behalf. The woman's friends, who help manage her Twitter account, said that she is exhausted from the standoff in the hotel and needs rest. Upon arrival in Bangkok, al-Qunun says, she was met by a Saudi embassy official who seized her passport. Gen. Surachate Hakparn as saying that Alqunun's father denied the narrative put forth by his daughter.

"I had been threatened to be killed before and they aren't afraid to threaten me in public", the teenager tweeted, later pleading for assistance by the United Nations, and to countries including Australia, Canada and the UK to offer her sanctuary.

"You are the real power help me to send my message, I need PROTECTION", she tweeted Tuesday afternoon, adding the hashtag #savemylife.

She said she was held after leaving her plane in Bangkok and told she would be sent back to Kuwait. The Saudi kingdom, which imposes the world's strictest restrictions on women, has a "guardianship system" which gives men authority in making certain decisions on behalf of their female family members. "We are both concerned for Miss Rahaf's safety and well-being", said Surachate.

She had spent almost 48 hours stranded at Bangkok airport under threat of being expelled.

"My name is Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Alqunun, and this is my picture", she tweeted on Sunday from Bangkok. However, Immigration Minister David Coleman is "very likely" to grant asylum if the 18-year-old passes all checks. In the meantime, her al-Qunun has asked that the media and public continue to pressure officials to follow-through on securing her asylum.

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 previous year.

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