Published: Wed, January 09, 2019
Worldwide | By Lisa Hogan

‘Under UN’s care’: Saudi woman ‘rescued’ from deportation after social media storm

‘Under UN’s care’: Saudi woman ‘rescued’ from deportation after social media storm

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun on her mobile phone as she sat barricaded in a hotel room in Thailand's worldwide airport in Bangkok on Monday.

"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 18-year-old Saudi national said she had "left her religion" and begged for shelter from either Canada, the US, Australia or the United Kingdom in a series of frantic twitter posts.

She claimed that a Saudi diplomat seized her passport and tickets as part of a plot to forcefully return her to Kuwait on the next flight.

Ms Al-Qunun had planned to enter Australia on a tourist visa and seek asylum before she was detained by Thai authorities on Sunday.

Al-Qunun's father and brother arrived in Bangkok seeking a talk with her.

In Saudi Arabia, she would not be able to travel overseas without the permission of a male guardian, so Qanun took the opportunity during a family visit to Kuwait and boarded a flight to Bangkok with the intention of reaching Australia.

"We are very grateful that the Thai authorities did not send back Ms. Al-qunun against her will and are extending protection for her", UNHCR Thailand country representative Giuseppe de Vicentiis was quoted as saying in a statement released on Tuesday morning.

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

On Monday evening local time, Thailand's chief of immigration police, Surachate Hakparn, said the country would "take care of her as best we can".

"Nobody wants to see a young girl in distress and she has obviously now found a safe haven in Thailand", Dutton told reporters in Brisbane on Wednesday.

Al-Qunun then barricaded herself inside an airport's hotel room, refusing to come out until she was granted a meeting with United Nations officials. She also gave access to her social media account to her friend Noura, who also fled Saudi Arabia because she renounced Islam. "They will take me to Saudi Arabia and my father will kill me because he is so angry", she said.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt told ABC TV on January 8 the government had successfully requested the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to process her case quickly.

Qunun said on Twitter that she was "scared" because her father arrived in Thailand yesterday, but that her passport had been returned to her.

Alqunun is reportedly the daughter of a high-ranking Saudi official.

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun is now staying at a Thai government shelter while the United Nations refugee agency assesses her case.

Many asylum seekers are refused entry and quietly deported, while those who make it into Thailand can wait years to be resettled to third countries or find themselves in prolonged detention.

According to 9 News, the Australian embassy had contacted the Thai government and the UNHCR's Bangkok office to confirm Alqunun could apply for refugee status. "We don't know whether he is going to try to get the embassy to do that", Robertson said.

Women in Saudi Arabia are subject to male guardianship laws, which mean they need a male relative's permission to work, travel, marry, open a bank account, or even leave prison.

Dina Ali Lasloom, 24, was en route from Kuwait via the Philippines but was taken back to Saudi Arabia from Manila airport by her family.

For more than 24 hours she fed global media, rights campaigners and a concerned public a stream of dramatic videos and descriptions of her ordeal.

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