Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

Saudi teen given refugee status, Australia considering visa for her

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun ASYLUM Rahaf was allowed into Thailand after fleeing her family
Jeannette Daniel | 12 January, 2019, 08:04

The Australian government said it was "pleased" the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) was assessing her claim.

Although Canadian officials said diplomats routinely raise human rights issues with their Saudi counterparts, the Saudi government reacted strongly to the public appeal and retaliated by freezing new trade, recalling its students from Canada and cancelling flights between the two countries. Several female Saudi runaways fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum overseas in recent years and returned home.

"Due to privacy concerns, we can not comment on a specific case without signed consent", said Nancy Caron, a spokeswoman for Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Saudi activists say the kingdom, through its embassies overseas, has at times put pressure on border patrol agents in foreign countries to deport the women back to Saudi Arabia.

The Australian embassy had contacted the Thai government and the UNHCR's Bangkok office to confirm Ms Alqunun could access the refugee process. The 18-year-old was stopped by officials in Thailand who confiscated her passport.

Australia's home affairs minister has warned there will be "no special treatment" in the case of Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, the 18-year-old Saudi woman who barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to prevent her forcible return to a family she claims will kill her.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun arrived in Bangkok on Saturday appealing for asylum.

"The government will be making no further comment on this matter", the Department said. "We have no idea what he is going to do. whether he will try to find out where she is and go harass her", Robertson said.

"The claims made by Ms Alqunun that she may be harmed if returned to Saudi Arabia are deeply concerning", a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said in an earlier statement.

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Saudi Arabia has strict social rules, including a requirement women have permission from a male "guardian" to travel.

Thailand is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and provides no legal protection to asylum seekers, although there are more than 100,000 refugees in the country.

Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun walks by Thai Chief of Immigration Police Maj. She says her family thinks of her as a slave, and will kill her for renouncing Islam.

She was travelling to Australia on a tourist visa to seek asylum and barricaded herself in a Thai hotel room to avoid being sent home. In a video clip of the meeting released by Thai immigration police, Alsheaiby is heard telling Thai officials: "From the moment she arrived, she opened a new account and her followers reached nearly 45,000 in a day. and I would have preferred it better if her phone was taken instead of her passport". She feared for her life if forced to return to Saudi Arabia.

"He wanted to make sure that his daughter was safe. he told me that he wanted to take her home", he said, adding that her father denied Ms Alqunun's allegation that her family was abusing her physically and emotionally.

A Saudi activist familiar with other cases of women who have run away said they were often young and unprepared for the risks involved in seeking asylum.

Some Saudi female runaways fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum overseas in recent years. Like Alqunun, she had set her sights on Australia and reached out for help on social media.

Saudi Arabia's wider human rights record has also come under intense scrutiny since the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in October.

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