Saudi woman is refugee, Australia must resettle

10 January, 2019, 11:41 | Author: Rachel Logan
  • Rahaf al-Qunun: Dad of Saudi refugee arrives in Bangkok Thailand | Daily Star

A Saudi teenager fleeing her family will be considered for resettlement in Australia, the country's home affairs department announced Wednesday.

Instead, they confirmed she would have been refused entry to Australia as the visa was not reflective of her intended stay in the country.

The father and brother of a Saudi teenager, whose flight and plea for asylum has made worldwide headlines, will travel to Thailand later today to give their accounts to the United Nations refugee agency, the Thai Immigration police chief said on Tuesday.

It also said the embassy had made contact with her father, a senior regional government official in the kingdom, "to inform him on her situation".

"When she arrived, she opened a new [Twitter] account and her followers grew to 45,000 in one day", he said in Arabic.

For runaway Saudi women, fleeing can be a matter of life and death, and they are nearly always trying to escape male relatives.

Qanun fired off a defiant Tweet on Saturday, stating: "I can live alone, free, and independent from anyone who has not respected my dignity and has not respected me as a woman". Local politicians and activists have been calling on the prime minister to provide al-Qunun with emergency travel documents and let her in as soon as possible.

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

Al-Qunun's father has denied physically abusing her or trying to force her into an arranged marriage. "I think there are many cases like this that go unreported".

The 18-year-old claims she was abducted and had her passport confiscated by Saudi Arabian diplomatic staff after she arrived at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport on Sunday.

Wednesday's development marks a significant victory for Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, who is now in Bangkok, after evading her family and traveling alone from Kuwait on Saturday.

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The young woman claims she was passing through Bangkok in transit. "What's important is get her safe so Australia really needs to move quickly to get her out of Thailand".

Qunun's desperate tweets ricocheted across social media with the #SaveRahaf hashtag drawing an outpouring of support but also the bile of some hardliners in her native country.

She had barricaded herself in her hotel room at the airport after claiming a Saudi official confiscated her passport and planned to forcibly return her to her departure point of Kuwait and onwards to her family in Saudi Arabia, whom she feared would kill her.

Rights group Amnesty International said Thai authorities should "show humanity" to AlAraibi the same way they had to Qunun.

"Rahaf's father met with the UNHCR representative to discuss the matter. naturally the parents are anxious about their children as this is a family matter", Surachate told reporters. "We will not send anyone to d‌i‌e", he was quoted as saying.

Qanun is not the first woman to be impacted by the long arm of the Saudi guardianship system. Saudi Arabia invested $29.5 million in Thailand in 2017, according to the Bank of Thailand, reflecting barely a drop in the $7.9 billion total foreign investment haul.

While Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson has backed this statement, Abdullah al-Shuaibi, charge d'affaires at the Saudi embassy in Bangkok, denied this. Alqunun's family was abusive, she said, even more so since she had renounced Islam. Both had attempted to apply for Turkish residency, but are now facing deportation in an ongoing appeals process.

But social media is emerging as a tool to shield asylum seekers from summary deportation.

While Khashoggi left his phone outside the consulate, Qanun held onto hers, using it to launch a now-viral asylum appeal via social media.

"She has violated Saudi laws in seeking to travel without the permission of her male guardian and has now further violated a number of laws and outraged the regime".

Should Qanun gain asylum in a third country, it could spark a new wave of challenges to the Saudi guardianship system overseas and impact gradual changes at home.

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