Australia will consider asylum bid of Saudi woman who fled to Thailand

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun

Fearing for her life should Thai authorities decide to repatriate her, she barricaded herself in her hotel room at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok and demanded United Nations protection before she could leave.

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.

Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters that Qunun's father and brother were due in Thailand yesterday.

'The father and brother want to go and talk to Rahaf but the United Nations will need to approve such talk, ' General Surachate told reporters. He described the man as being a governor in Saudi Arabia. "He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes", General Surachate said. "But he didn't go into detail". On Twitter, she has expressed fear of such a meeting.

Alqunun arrived in Bangkok from Kuwait late Saturday, but was stopped from proceeding to her planned destination of Australia.

Yet because Thailand has not ratified the U.N.'s 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, the main statues defining protections for refugees, Thai law provides little protection or respite to the vulnerable masses.

The organisation's Australian director, Elaine Pearson, said she had seen electronic confirmation of her tourist visa, but that Alqunun could no longer access her visa page on Australia's immigration website on Tuesday, sparking concern that the document had been canceled.

Indications from Canberra suggest Alqunun may receive a sympathetic hearing.

Ms Alqunun is now in the care of the UN's refugee agency, who will send her to a third country if she is granted asylum status.

Her extraordinary use of social media to highlight her plight had managed to spark an global outcry and #SaveRahaf campaign within hours of her detention, attracting human rights activists and diplomats to advocate on her behalf.

The influence of the Internet on Alqunun's case was noted by several human rights advocates.

She claims she will be killed if she returns to Saudi Arabia.

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees at its Geneva headquarters, Babar Baloch, said it could take several days for the agency to look into Alqunun's claims. "I think there are many cases like this that go unreported".

Surachate discussed Alqunun's situation on Tuesday with Saudi Charge d'Affaires in Thailand Abdalelah Mohammed A. Alsheaiby.

She remains under the protection of Thai police.

Saudi women runaways have increasingly turned to social media to amplify their calls for help.

"They threaten to kill me and prevent me from continuing my education", she said.

Noura, one of four friends tweeting from Ms Mohammed al-Qunun's account, told the BBC they knew each other from an online group for Saudi feminists, and that she herself had "escaped" Saudi Arabia because she is "an ex-Muslim". Alqunun said she was taken to a transit hotel room in the airport as Thai officials arranged for her to be deported.

However, the young woman said an employee of the Kuwait Airways airline confiscated her passport and told her that at the request of the Saudi Arabian embassy she would be forced to board a flight back to Kuwait where her relatives were waiting for her.

Qunun's case 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 humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.

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