Tuesday, 25 June, 2019


United Nations asks Australia to consider Saudi teen for 'refugee resettlement'

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Bennie Garza | 12 January, 2019, 08:06

The Thai immigration chief said the Saudi embassy had alerted Thai authorities to the case, saying that the woman had run away from her parents and they feared for her safety. She began by boarding a plane by herself to Thailand, but the plan quickly spiraled out of control.

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.

However, officials in Australia hinted that her request will be accepted.

This handout picture taken and released by Thai Immigration Bureau on January 7, 2019 shows 18-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qanun, middle, being escorted by the Thai immigration officer and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees officials at the Suvarnabhumi worldwide airport in Bangkok.

"The Department of Home Affairs will consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals", a spokesperson said. "And I would have preferred it better if her phone was taken instead of her passport".

Ms Alqunun alleged several times that Saudi officials were involved in seizing her passport.

The Saudi embassy in Bangkok said it "did not demand her deportation" and that the case is "a family affair". On Twitter, she had expressed fear of such a meeting. We have no idea what he is going to do ... whether he will try to find out where she is and go harass her.

That makes it "100 percent" certain she will be killed by her family if she is returned to Saudi, she added.

Photos released on Monday night by immigration police showed the teenager with Thai and United Nations officials after she left the airport transit hotel room where she had been holed up over the weekend. Like Alqunun, she comes from Ha'il province in northwestern Saudi Arabia.

Thailand initially said it would deport her at the request of Saudi Arabian embassy officials, barring her from traveling on to Australia where al-Qunun said she had meant to claim asylum.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun arrived in Bangkok on Saturday appealing for asylum. "Ask the Canadian government to protect Rahaf", a tweet from early Tuesday morning says.

But as her plight pinballed across social media - including tweets about how she had barricaded herself in a hotel room - they abruptly changed course and allowed her to leave the airport Monday in the care of the UN's refugee agency.

Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn conceded that Twitter can "attract the interest of the global community" but denied authorities were swayed by Rahaf's social media barrage.

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

A British woman launched an online petition calling on Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to grant al-Qunun asylum and issue her an emergency travel document.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the activist said there had been instances where Saudi women runaways were stopped by authorities in Hong Kong or the Philippines en route to Australia or New Zealand. "This should be the standard for any individual who claims that his or her life is in danger".

Ms Alqunun garnered worldwide attention when she took her plight to social media this week, tweeting that she had "nothing to lose". This would mean that she can't be sent back to them. She was reportedly taken to a detention center in the Saudi capital and little more regarding her location or condition is known.

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