#SaveRahaf: UN urges Australia to grant Saudi runaway teenager asylum

#SaveRahaf: UN urges Australia to grant Saudi runaway teenager asylum
A Saudi teenager he fled her allegedly abusive family remains trapped in Thailand.
3 min read
09 January, 2019
Rahaf has sought asylum in Australia [Twitter]

A Saudi teenager who fled her home and sought refuge outside the kingdom should be granted asylum in Australia, the UN said on Wednesday.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, an 18-year-old Saudi woman, fled to Thailand, via Kuwait, where she was stopped by customs as she tried to reach Australia.

Qunun family claims her family subjected her to physical and psychological abuse, and sought to seek asylum in Australia.

Thailand did plan to deport her to Saudi Arabia following a request from the kingdom's embassy in Bangkok, and detained her in a hotel. 

Armed with a phone, she barricaded herself in her hotel room and live-tweeted her plight, saying she feared she would be murdered by her family if she was returned back to Saudi Arabia. 

The move led to a social media campaign in support of Qunun and sparked a sharp U-turn by Thai officials.

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-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 said Qunun's request will be very likely 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.

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said Qunun had renounced Islam, which puts her at "serious risk" of prosecution, or worse, in Saudi Arabia.

Her father and brother arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday, but Qunun "refused to see" them, according to Thai immigration police chief Surachate Hakparn.

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

A UNHCR representative told AFP "the process is still ongoing".

Qunun told the agency that her family was "abusive" and once locked her in a room for six months just for cutting her hair.

The issue has put Saudi Arabia's "guardianship" system under the spotlight again, which allows male family members to make decisions on behalf of female relatives.

Despite some superficial reforms by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, the guardianship laws still remain in place, while women's rights activists have been detained.

Qunun said she was "100 percent" 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 Surachate that 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".

Qunun posted an update on Twitter on Thursday, promising to "broadcast continuously to assure" the public of her condition.

"I have prepared my strength and will continue my journey to reach a safe country," she tweeted in Arabic.

Saudi Arabia has come under fire since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country's consulate in Istanbul last year, which Turkish and American intelligence have linked to the crown prince.