United Nations says Saudi teen is refugee, asks Australia to resettle

Frederick Owens
January 9, 2019

18-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qanun (C) being escorted by a Thai immigration officer (R) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials at Suvarnabhumi worldwide airport in Bangkok.

The teenager has renounced Islam and wrote of being in "real danger" if forced to return to her family under pressure from Saudi authorities and has claimed she could be killed.

The home affairs department said it will "consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals". Both countries have said she was stopped because she didn't have a return ticket, hotel reservation or itinerary with her upon arrival.

Thai immigration officials had initially said she should return to Kuwait.

But a government source told The Australian the visa had not been revoked.

"She does not wish to go back and we will not force her".

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun's father and brother have arrived in Thailand but she is refusing to see them.

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.

The Australian Government says it is monitoring the case closely."The claims made by Ms Al-Qunun that she may be harmed if returned to Saudi Arabia are deeply concerning".

She earlier barricaded herself in a Thai hotel room, refusing to leave until the United Nations intervened.

"Due to privacy concerns, we can not comment on a specific case without signed consent", said Nancy Caron, a spokeswoman for Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Saudi Woman Running Away from Family is Now Under UNHCR Protection

Saudi activists say the kingdom, through its embassies overseas, has at times put pressure on border patrol agents in foreign countries to deport the women back to Saudi Arabia.

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

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

The case has drawn new global attention to Saudi Arabia's strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male "guardian" to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

She used a Canadian tourist's phone to send a message, a video of which was posted to Twitter, saying her family would kill her.

"Pending the outcome of that, if she is found to be a refugee, then we will give very, very, very serious consideration to a humanitarian visa".

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.

While there has been a groundswell of support for Qunun to be granted refugee status and resettled in Australia, Peter Dutton, a hardliner in Australia's conservative government, said: "There is no special circumstance for anybody in this situation".

He said the Thai government "needs to explain why diplomats from Saudi Arabia are allowed to walk in closed areas of the Bangkok airport, seizing one of their citizen's passports".

Saudi Arabia's human rights record has been under heavy scrutiny since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi late a year ago.

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

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