Australia considering Saudi teen’s asylum bid

The Australian government said it would “carefully consider” the asylum claim of an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled alleged abuse from her family and is now in the care of the UN in Bangkok, after she fended off deportation in a gripping, live-tweeted ordeal.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun arrived at Suvarnabhumi international airport on a flight from Kuwait over the weekend after running away from her family, who she says subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

Qunun said she planned to seek asylum in Australia, fearing she would be killed if repatriated by Thai immigration officials who stopped her at the airport.

On Sunday, Thai authorities said Qunun would be sent back to Saudi Arabia, but they abruptly changed course as her plight pinballed across social media.

Qunun posted dozens of tweets and live videos in English and Arabic, some describing how she had barricaded herself in a hotel room. Her account quickly racked up tens of thousands of followers, feeding an international media frenzy.

On Monday she was allowed to leave the airport in the care of the UN’s refugee agency.

The Australian government on Tuesday teased the possibility of granting the young woman refugee status, saying it was “pleased” the UN was assessing her claim.

“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.

Meanwhile, the Saudi teenager’s father and brother who arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday are still waiting to see whether she would be ready to meet them, according to Pol Lt-Gen Surachate Hakparn, commissioner of Immigration Bureau.

Pol Lt-Gen Surachate also quoted the Saudi charge d’affaires in Bangkok as saying that the case is a family affairs and will not have any impact on the relations between Saudi Arabia and Thailand.

Pol Lt-Gen Surachate met with the Saudi envoy on Tuesday to explain the Thai government’s decision not to send the teenaged girl back to Kuwait where she came from as demanded by her family.

The Saudi charge d’affaires also maintained that Saudi officials have not demanded Rahaf to be sent home but, instead, have asked  Thai authorities to ensure the safety of the girl.  He also insisted that the incident was a family affairs and denied claims that the girl had her passport confiscated by Saudi embassy officials at Suvarnabhumi airport.


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