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Saudi teen runaway in Bangkok is ’legitimate refugee’: UN

BANGKOK: The UN has said an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family is a legitimate refugee and has asked Australia to resettle her, Canberra said yesterday (Jan 9), as the Twitter-led campaign to grant her asylum edged towards resolution.


By AFP

Thursday 10 January 2019, 09:05AM


Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun (centre) is escorted by a Thai Immigration Chief Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn (right) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials at Suvarnabhumi international airport in Bangkok on Monday. Photo: Immigration Bureau

Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun (centre) is escorted by a Thai Immigration Chief Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn (right) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials at Suvarnabhumi international airport in Bangkok on Monday. Photo: Immigration Bureau

Rahaf Mohammed al-Ms Qunun was stopped by authorities at Bangkok's main airport as she arrived on a flight from Kuwait on the weekend after running away from her family, who she says subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

Ms Qunun’s father, accompanied by her brother, arrived in Bangkok, and denied any physical abuse of his daughter, or any attempt to force her into an arranged marriage.

She refused to meet with them.

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

But armed with a phone, she barricaded herself into an airside hotel room and fought back – live-tweeting her fears of deportation in a campaign that swiftly galvanised international support and prompted a sharp U-turn by Thai officials.

Ms Qunun is now in the care of the UN’s refugee agency in Bangkok, which is processing her case.

“The UNHCR has referred Ms Rahaf Mohammed Al-Ms Qunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement,” Australia's Department of Home Affairs confirmed in a statement.

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

Australian officials have strongly hinted that Ms Qunun’s request will be accepted.

“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 had said before the UN determination was public.

Ms Qunun’s desperate tweets ricocheted across social media with the #SaveRahaf hashtag drawing an outpouring of support but also the bile of some hardliners in her native country.

She only joined the social media site at the start of this month but has quickly racked up more than 100,000 followers.

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said Ms Qunun had renounced Islam, which puts her at “serious risk” of prosecution in Saudi Arabia.

Her father and brother arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday, but Ms Qunun “refused to see” them, according to Thai Immigration Chief Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn, who has been caught up in the international firestorm since Ms Qunun’s arrival.

He said the family’s patriarch had met with the UNHCR yesterday morning and will return to “her country” later today.

“Her father is relieved that she is safe,” Gen Surachate said, adding that the “UNHCR will find a third country that will accept her in two days”.

A UNHCR representative said “the process is still ongoing”.

On Sunday Ms Qunun told AFP her family was “abusive” and once locked her in a room for six months just for cutting her hair.

Fleeing them while travelling in Kuwait throws her into conflict with Saudi Arabia’s “guardianship” system, which allows male family members to make decisions on behalf of female relatives, she said. Saudi religious law forbids her to travel alone without permission of her male guardian.

That makes it “100%” certain she will be killed by her family if she is returned to Saudi, she added.

Footage released by Thai immigration shows Abdulilah al-Shouaibi, Saudi embassy charge d’affaires in Bangkok, complaining in a meeting Tuesday with Gen Surachate that Ms Qunun’s smartphone should have been confiscated.

“When she arrived, she open a new (Twitter) account and her followers grew to 45,000 in one day,” he said in Arabic.

“It would have been better if they had confiscated her mobile instead of her passport.”

The Saudi embassy in Bangkok said it “did not demand her deportation” and that the case is “a family affair”.

The ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has come under fire since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country’s consulate in Istanbul last year.

 

New spotlight on Bahraini footballer?

The human rights group Amnesty International said yesterday it welcomed the decision by UNHCR to grant refugee status to the teenage Saudi runaway. It said her case had inspired millions and should remind people of the bravery and sacrifices of people who flee their native lands for safety.

It praised Thailand for its actions in Ms Qunun’s case, but said the country had not treated other asylum-seekers in the same responsible manner.

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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Kurt | 10 January 2019 - 12:25:45

Saudi embassy charge d'affairs: ."It would have beem better to confiscate her mobile phone than her passport". Huh?  Do I miss something? What right any civilised country has to confiscate a passport or Mobile in a International Airport Transit Hall if the passenger is not a wanted criminal? The saying shows Saudi thinking, and 'Big Joke' did bow for such a Saudi? ( saw that ...

DeKaaskopp | 10 January 2019 - 11:56:46

Dina Ali Lasloom !?! I'm surprised that someone who has a solution for everything and always comes up with clever? suggestions,can't even google a simple name to find out about the whereabouts of her.Maybe not that clever at all?

Kurt | 10 January 2019 - 09:50:05

It looks like the Saudi Government tries everything to make their wonen scared to flee out of the country. Obvious spend a lot of money to prevent it, or get them back. What is/was the real role of 'Big Joke' in this affair? As Saudi  did give in and now calls it a 'Family Affair', Big Jokes stands alone, he just damaged Thailand's image. ( Land of the Free)

Kurt | 10 January 2019 - 09:31:51

General 'Big Joke' made a big mistake to take the passport of a passenger in transit. The biggest joke is that it seems now he interfered in a 'family affair', according the Saudi Embassy. 'Big Joke' didn't function in his last job, I am puzzled why he was transferred to present position in which he does more harm than good to Thailand's image. Retire him.

Kurt | 10 January 2019 - 09:21:43

How about the Saudi woman Dina Ali Lasloom? Stopped in Philippines in April 2017 when she attented to flee her family. She was brought back to Saudi, duck taped and well in aircraft. How is she doing now? Still alive?

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