23 May 2024

The UN refugee agency can ask for more time for Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunan to remain in Thailand while processing her request to be sent to a third country for asylum.

Immigration chief Pol Lt-Gen Surachate Hakparn said today that the five-day timeline asked by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Bangkok to process Ms Rahaf’s case was due to expire today and still there was no confirmation from either Australia or Canada about when the Saudi teenager would be accepted for resettlement.

He said he was willing to extend Ms Rahaf’s stay, if requested, to enable the UNHCR to complete processing her case.

The 18-year-old girl has expressed her wish to resettle either in Australia or Canada.

On Wednesday, the UNHCR agreed to grant her legitimate refugee status and the agency has been in contact with Australia and Canada to accept her.

Rahaf is now in the care and protection of the UN refugee agency.  She is in good health and has persistently refused to meet with her father or elder brother who have been in Bangkok to bring her home in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi teenager flew into Bangkok from Kuwait last Saturday, but she was denied entry and her passport seized by Thai immigration officials at Suvarnabhumi international airport who initially also threatened to send her back to Kuwait.

While barricading herself in an airport hotel, she launched an online campaign highlighting her fear that she might be killed if sent home and said she wanted to take asylum in a third country.  Her campaign attracted widespread attention and support, prompting human rights organizations and UNHCR to intervene to prevent her from being sent back home.