United Nations refugee agency assesses case of Saudi teen who fled to Thailand

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Australia said Tuesday it will "carefully consider" the asylum claim of an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled alleged abuse from her family and is now in the care of the United Nations in Bangkok, after she fended off deportation in a gripping, live-tweeted ordeal.

18-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qanun (C) is escorted to a vehicle by the Thai immigration officer and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials at the Suvarnabhumi global airport in Bangkok on January 7, 2019.

Initially, Thai authorities said Qunun would be sent back to Saudi Arabia.

Under the hashtag #SaveRahaf, the young woman's desperate pleas became a social media sensation, and she was able to post live updates and videos from the Bangkok airport in both Arabic and English, racking up more than 80,000 followers.

Fearful: Rohaf Mohammed Alqunun was expected to meet her father in Thailand after she fled her family, saying she would be killed for renouncing Islam. She also said she was once detained in a bedroom for six months after she cut her hair, according to Human Rights Watch.

Saudi women are subject to strict male guardianship laws and must obtain consent from a male relative for travel documents.

"She had no further documents such as return ticket or money", he said, adding that Rahaf was now in an airport hotel.


"We are very grateful that the Thai authorities did not send back (Qunun) against her will and are extending protection to her", said the UNHCR's Thailand representative Giuseppe de Vincentiis. "I can't study and work in my country, so I want to be free and study and work as I want", she said.

Another tweet read: 'I'm afraid my family will kill me'.

"When I landed at the airport, someone came and said he would process the [Thai] visa but he took my passport".

The charity has also urged the Thai government to let Qunan approach the UNHCR office in Bangkok to make a refugee claim.

Gen Surachate said he was unaware of any passport seizure and it is unclear why Ms Mohammed al-Qunun would need a Thai visa if she was in transit to Australia and had an Australian visa.

Earlier on Monday, Thai officials admitted having contact with the Saudi embassy before her arrival, after previously denying it.

The ultra-conservative Saudi kingdom has always been criticized for imposing some of the world's toughest restrictions on women.


Immigration head Surachate said Ms. Rahaf would be sent back to Saudi Arabia by Monday morning. Thailand have since reversed plans to expel the teenager due to concerns over her safety, the immigration chief said.

A tweet on the Saudi Foreign Ministry official account denied allegations that its embassy had confiscated her passport.

As per a New York Times article, Alqunun boarded a plane to Thailand while her family was on a holiday in Kuwait.

"They said "you have three minutes to pack, and you will be flown back to Kuwait tomorrow at 11.15am, then returned to Saudi Arabia", she told AAP.

On Monday, the chief of Thailand's immigration police said that al-Qunun was "allowed to stay" in his country, and that she had "left the airport with the UNHCR [United Nations Human Rights Council]".

In 2017, Dina Ali Lasloom triggered a firestorm online when she was stopped en route to Australia, where she planned to seek asylum.


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