Thai police: Canada, Australia willing to accept Saudi woman

12 January, 2019, 01:25 | Author: Sheila Harris
  • Rahaf Mohammed Al Qunun is currently in the care of United Nations officials

An 18-year-old Saudi teenager who said she is fleeing abuse from her family has been granted asylum in Canada, according to a Thai official.

Canada was already far offside with Riyadh over Ottawa's demand for the "immediate release" of jailed rights campaigners, including Samar Badawi, the sister of the Saudi jailed blogger Raif Badawi.

The office of Canada's foreign minister however, said it could not confirm that asylum had been granted.

Rahaf's swift use of Twitter saw her amass more than 100,000 followers within a week, highlighting her plight at a time when Saudi Arabia's human rights record is under heavy scrutiny following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi a year ago.

'I understand that there have been death threats against her but I don't know the details, ' said Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch.

The UN refugee agency coordinated with Canadian authorities to resettle her there, and she will be in the care of the International Organization for Migration once she arrives, he added.

Her father and brother arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday with the intention of seeing her - but Thai police said she refused to meet them. Several female Saudis fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum overseas in recent years and returned home.

The head of Thailand's immigration bureau, Surachate Hakparn, said Alqunun would leave on a flight that would bring her to Toronto.

"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 told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. before the UNHCR's referral.

Payne told reporters that Canberra was "engaged in the steps of the assessment process of al-Qunun as required".

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"We are, as I've said, very concerned about his detention, very concerned about any potential for return of Mr.al-Araibi to Bahrain".

She fled her family while visiting Kuwait and flew to Bangkok, where she barricaded herself in an airport hotel to avoid deportation and grabbed global attention by mounting a social media campaign for asylum.

Yes. Ms al-Qunun's case echoes that of another Saudi woman who was in transit to Australia in April 2017.

Qunun later tweeted the video of that meeting and wrote that her "Twitter account has changed the game against what he wished for me".

During her trip, Payne met with her Thai counterpart, Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR had referred Qunun's protection request to Australia on Wednesday, though it had not been confirmed before now that Canada was also considering her case.

It was unclear why Qunun made a decision to seek asylum in Canada after initially expressing a desire to live Down Under.

Alqunun, from Hail in northwestern Saudi Arabia, said she feared she may have been killed if she was forced to return to her family.

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.

She barricaded herself in an airport hotel room in an attempt to prevent being deported back to her family and began live-Tweeting her situation to the world.

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