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

Charlene Craig
January 9, 2019

Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun (front left) is seen with Thai immigration authorities at a hotel inside Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok January 7, 2019.

Al-Qunun has alleged many times that Saudi officials were involved in the seizure of her passport.

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". "My life is in real danger if I am forced to return to Saudi Arabia".

"We haven't heard from the Australian government yet about this, but if confirmed that would be quite shameful of the Australian government to cancel her visa knowing the threats that await her in Saudi Arabia", said Amnesty International's Middle East campaigns director Samah Hamid.

"Everybody was watching. When social media works, this is what happens", said Mr Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, of the worldwide outcry.

A group called the Secret Sisterhood has set up a GoFundMe page to raise cash for Qunun once she is resettled in another country.

"Because this is a high profile case and because she has a lot of support from the worldwide community, I think it is very possible that this could end very quickly", said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Australian officials have strongly hinted that Ms Qunun's request will be accepted.

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The UNHCR office in Thailand also declined to comment. "We will take care of her as best as we can". She said she has made a decision to renounce Islam.

Earlier, Australia agreed to seriously consider allowing Alqunun to settle in Australia after urging the UNHCR to process her case quickly.

Since Australia has expressed concern in the past about women's rights in Saudi Arabia, it should "come forward and offer protection for this young woman", Pearson said.

"The father and brother want to go and talk to Rahaf but the United Nations will need to approve such talk", immigration chief Surachate Hakpan told reporters.

"I'd never spoken to her before", she told Reuters.

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After public pressure, Alqunun got her passport back.

"She filmed these two people talking to her", said Mr Robertson. "They kept telling me they will kill me if I do something wrong-they say that since I was a child".

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By this time, global media outlets had picked up on the story and Thai immigration officials were confirming that Ms Qunun was to be expelled on Monday morning.

Ms McNeill arrived in Thailand early on Monday and managed to join Ms Qunun in her hotel room. "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. And if all else failed and she was forced on the Kuwait Airways jet, an activist in India was ready with a "bomb scare" tweet to stop the flight from leaving.

Qunun has said she believes she will be imprisoned or killed if sent back, and that her family is so strict they once locked her in a room for six months for cutting her hair.

"It could take several days to process the case and determine the next steps", he said in the statement.

Thailand has never ratified the United Nations convention that recognises refugee status, and it considers refugees and asylum seekers as it would any other migrant.

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.

The UN is examining the asylum appeal of a young Saudi woman who fled her family and is afraid of getting killed if sent home.

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