Saudi Woman Granted Refugee Status, Could Get Asylum In Australia

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In 2017, a Saudi woman who sought asylum in Australia, and said she feared violence from any relatives who came to bring her back home, was stopped on a layover in the Philippines and returned to Riyadh.

"The UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] has referred Ms Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement", the Australian Department of Home Affairs confirmed in a statement.

But she was intercepted by Thai authorities, who initially wanted to send her back to her family.al-Qunun says her family consider her a "slave", and would kill her if she were sent back, as punishment for renouncing Islam.

Rahaf al-Qunun, 18, flew to Thailand on Saturday from Kuwait, where her plan was to continue to Australia and lodge an asylum claim.

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

At about 1am on Monday morning, Ms Qunun posted a video of herself pushing a table to barricade her hotel room door.

In a short press release distributed to media outside their embassy in Bangkok Tuesday, the Saudi government said it had not demanded her deportation, adding the case is a "family affair", but under the "care and attention" of the embassy.

Australian officials have hinted that Alqunun's request is likely to succeed.

Alqunun has refused to meet with her father, who arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday. But her bravery has shone a light on the appalling treatment of women in Saudi Arabia - one of the world's most oppressive regimes.

Her father and brother arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday, but al-Qunun "refused to see" them, according to Thai immigration police chief Surachate Hakparn, who has been caught up in the global firestorm since al-Qunun's arrival. "This should be the standard for any individual who claims that his or her life is in danger". She told the world defiantly: "I'm real and exist". "He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes", Surachate said.

But when she arrived in Bangkok she said a Saudi diplomat met her at the airport and tricked her into handing over her passport and ticket, saying he would secure a visa. The 18-year-old was stopped by officials in Thailand who confiscated her passport.

While Ms McNeill boarded a flight from Sydney to Bangkok, Ms Qunun was holed up in an airport transit hotel and afraid she would be forced onto the next flight back to Kuwait.

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

By early Sunday afternoon, Mr Robertson had notified the United Nations refugee agency in Thailand and several foreign embassies about the unfolding case, and they began to contact Thai authorities.

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 a year ago. We have no idea what he is going to do ... whether he will try to find out where she is and go harass her.

"She is under the care of the UNHCR now but we also sent Thai security to help take care [of her]", Surachate told reporters.Qunun had reportedly told UNHCR officials that she "wants to stay in Thailand for a while seeking asylum to a third country". In the past, Thailand have often breached their responsibilities to asylum seekers and refugees.

Human Rights Watch earlier called on the Australian government to allow Alqunun's entry into that country, amid worries about her visa status. The 18-year-old captured the world's attention in a series of Twitter posts that at times read like an worldwide thriller - with very real consequences.

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