With Phone And Hashtag, Saudi Asylum Seeker Outflanks Thai Authorities

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A Saudi teenager who fled from her "abusive" family has been declared a legitimate refugee by the United Nations, the Australian government has said.

The United Nations has deemed Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun to be a refugee, referring her case to Australia.

"Any application by Ms al-Qunun for a humanitarian visa will be carefully considered once the UNHCR process has concluded", a Department of Home Affairs official told AFP news agency.

At Bangkok's global airport, security officials stopped her and confiscated her passport, which she said was later returned.

"What is truly appalling is how the Saudi Arabian government has acted in sending an official to physically seize her passport from her in Bangkok airport worldwide transit", Robertson said. But after being detained by Thai authorities, she refused to board a flight back to Kuwait, barricading herself in a hotel room.

Alqunun's father - a senior Saudi official - and her brother, who she says often physically abused her, are now in Thailand.

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Ms Alqunun is now in the care of the UNHCR, who will decide if the visit will be allowed.

Qunun said sending her back would likely result in imprisonment and was "sure 100%" that her own family would k‌i‌ll her."My family is strict and locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair", she revealed.Robertson said Qunun's renouncement of Islam also puts her, "at serious risk of prosecution by the Saudi Arabian government". Hakparn ensured that they will "take care of her as best we can", and that "she is now under the sovereignty of Thailand; no-one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere".

Al-Qunun alleged several times that Saudi officials were involved in seizing her passport. He said it was "too early to tell" if she will be granted asylum or refugee status. Alqunun says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia.

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Australian embassy representatives in Bangkok have also coordinated with Thai authorities and the UNHCR to "seek assurances" that she will be able to access the "refugee status determination process".

Qanun hails from the province of Al-Sulaimi in the Saudi interior, where she told Asia Times that her father, Mohammed al-Qanun, is the governor.

Apostasy is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.

But the Thai immigration chief, Surachate Hakpan, said the men would have to wait to learn whether the UN's refugee agency would allow the request. Public pressure prompted Thai officials to return her passport and let her temporarily stay in Thailand. "The embassy considers this issue a family matter".

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said "the claims made by Ms al-Qunun that she may be harmed if returned to Saudi Arabia are deeply concerning". She's accused her family abusing of psychologically and physically abusing her.

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.

But on Tuesday, the Thai immigration office released a video clip of its officials meeting Saudi diplomats to discuss the case.

Saudi Arabia's embassy in Thailand on January 8 denied reports that Saudi Arabia had requested her extradition, according to Reuters.

Speaking to The Guardian, Qunun's friend Nourah Alharbi said the outpouring of support on social media had made a huge difference.

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