World Media

Australia to ‘consider’ runaway Saudi woman’s asylum plea

Rahaf Alqunun left says she fled abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia

The UN has said an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family is a legitimate refugee and has asked Australia to resettle her, Canberra said Wednesday, as the Twitter-led campaign to grant her asylum edged towards resolution.

"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 global transit", Mr Robertson said.

The 18-year-old woman is seeking asylum after being detained in Bangkok airport trying to board a flight to Australia.

"AlAraibi was granted permanent residency by the Australian government in recognition of his status as a refugee", Payne said in a statement, saying that she would seek his safe return to Australia.

"The Australian Government is pleased that Ms Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun is having her claim for protection assessed [by the UN]", a Department of Home Affairs official said. Australia will "consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals".

It noted that Hakeem al-Araibi, a refugee and "torture survivor" from Bahrain granted residence in Australia, has been detained by Thailand since November awaiting a hearing on a Bahraini extradition request.

It said any application by Ms Al-Qunun for a humanitarian visa would be "carefully considered" once the UNHCR process has concluded.

Alqunun was stopped at the Thai airport by Saudi officials, who confiscated her passport and booked her on a flight back to Saudi Arabia.

"She won't be sent anywhere tonight", Thailand's immigration police chief, Major General Surachate Hakparn, said at a news conference at the airport. "He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes", Surachate said.

"Indicating that if she had a valid claim we'd support their efforts to offer her settlement in Australia", Senator Wong told the ABC's AM on Thursday.

So far, her family members don't appear to have commented publicly on the allegations of abuse. A UNHCR representative told AFP "the process is still ongoing".

Elaine Pearson, the Australian director of Human Rights Watch, said that Australia should come to Al-qunun's defense on moral grounds.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun has renounced Islam, an offence which is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia though this has not happened in recent memory.

Saudi Arabia described the case as a "family affair", adding that the country did not demand her deportation back home.

Hunt said he had spoken to immigration minister David Coleman about Qunun's case late on Tuesday.

"I am giving my family 48 hours (to) either stop or I will publish everything that will incriminate them", she threatened on Twitter.

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.

By Wednesday afternoon, Qunun had returned to posting updates on Twitter, promising to "broadcast continuously to assure" the public of her condition.

Her first tweet, in Arabic, was posted at 3:20 am on Sunday (20:20 GMT on Saturday).

It praised Thailand for its actions in Alqunun's case, but said the country had not treated other asylum-seekers in the same responsible manner.

"No person should be deported to a country where they are at risk of serious human rights violations. the humanity shown to Rahaf must not be a one-off".

It comes at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.