Australia to consider taking in Saudi teen who fled family 'abuse'

12 January, 2019, 08:05 | Author: Sheila Harris
  • Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun

Officials said they would "consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals".

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

THE Saudi teenager fleeing her family has been thrown a lifeline by the Australian Government, which indicated it was likely to grant her a humanitarian visa.

A spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees at its Geneva headquarters, Babar Baloch, said Tuesday it's premature to say what will happen next, but that it could take several days for the agency to look into Alqunun's claims.

Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun in Bangkok.

Rights group Amnesty International said Thai authorities should "show humanity" to AlAraibi the same way they had to Qunun.

The teen wrote of being in "real danger" if she is forced to return to her family, posting a copy of her passport to prove her identity.

Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Alqunun, 18, claims she was abducted and had her passport confiscated by Saudi Arabian diplomatic staff after she arrived at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport on Sunday.

The minister said the matter would be resolved "in due course", but said it was up to the 18-year-old if she wanted to apply to come to Australia while her case is determined.

"We have no idea what he is going to do", he said.

The teenager told officials that she has renounced Islam and feared that her family and relatives would kill her if she returned.

Ms Alqunun garnered global attention when she took her plight to social media this week, tweeting that she had "nothing to lose".

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Ms Alqunun's case has again highlighted the cause of women's rights in Saudi Arabia.

"I want Canada to give me asylum!" she tweeted in the early morning on Tuesday.

Ms Alqunun has refused to meet her father and brother who flew to Bangkok this week, Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said. Thai officials eventually returned her passport and allowed her to stay in the country, under the care of the United Nations, following public pressure.

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

"[Ms] Rahaf is not a political asylum case", he insisted.

"My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things", Al-Qunun told Reuters, describing "physical, emotional and verbal abuse and being imprisoned inside the house for months". Qunun, a daughter of a senior regional government official, also revealed that Saudi and Kuwaiti officials confiscated her passport upon her arrival.

When someone makes very serious allegations of abuse, torture or a threat to their life, authorities have to take it at face value and allow the proper protocols of investigation to occur, Ms Stirling said.

Activists are concerned about what Saudi Arabia will do after Thai authorities reversed a decision to expel her and allowed Qunun to enter the country under the care of the UNHCR.

In some cases, Saudi authorities were involved in forcing women to return to their families and in other cases, local authorities suspected the women of seeking asylum and deported them, the activist said.

Alqunun's shrewd use of social media - one of the few tools available to her while barricaded in a hotel room - may have been her saving grace.

It comes at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.

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