Australia to 'consider' Saudi teen Rahaf Alqunun's asylum plea

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The teen said she is seeking asylum in Australia, and Thai police have allowed her to meet with United Nations refugee officials.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun is now being evaluated by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) to assess her need for worldwide protection, a process that usually takes months.

"Pending the outcome of that, if she is found to be a refugee, then we will give very, very, very serious consideration to a humanitarian visa", he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

But when she arrived in Bangkok she said a Saudi diplomat met her at the airport and tricked her into handing over her passport and ticket, saying he would secure a visa. But after being detained by Thai authorities, she refused to board a flight back to Kuwait, barricading herself in a hotel room.

Activists are concerned about what Saudi Arabia will do after Thai authorities reversed a decision to expel her and allowed Qunun to enter the country under the care of the UNHCR.

The statement, which described al-Qunun's case as a "family affair", said the kingdom did not demand her deportation to Saudi Arabia.

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"When it became clear that she wasn't going to leave, I decided it was important to stay and have someone documenting what was going on", Ms McNeill said.

She told The Daily Mail, "When I came to Thailand someone told me that he will help me to get a visa for Thailand in the airport".

Al-Qunun has alleged many times that Saudi officials were involved in the seizure of her passport. "They said to her very clearly that they will put her on the Kuwait Airways flight KU 412 leaving (Monday) at 11.15 am".

The Australian director of Human Rights Watch Australia, Elaine Pearson, said the extraordinary circumstances around Qunun's case should be taken into account.

After Alqunun barricaded herself in her Bangkok hotel room, her pleas for help over Twitter garnered tens of thousands of followers, and the attention of the UNHCR.

"Al-Qunun says she doesn't want to meet with her father or brother". People who convert to another religion from Islam risk being charged with apostasy - or abandoning their religious beliefs, which is legally punishable by death.

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The chief of immigration police Surachate Hakparn said "the Saudi Arabia embassy contacted the immigration police... and said that the girl had run away from her parents and they feared for her safety".

Until recently, Alqunun had been living with her parents and six siblings in Ha'il, Saudi Arabia, where her father is a government official according to the Daily Mail.

Many asylum seekers are refused entry and quietly deported, while those who make it into Thailand can wait years to be resettled to third countries or find themselves in prolonged detention.

The Saudi embassy at the time issued a statement referring to the case as a "family" matter. She's accused her family abusing of psychologically and physically abusing her.

"She's an adult woman who has escaped Saudi Arabia's repressive and discriminatory "guardianship" laws and these men must recognize the rules have changed", he said, adding it is "solely her decision" whether or not to meet them. "The Saudi charge d'affaires said he is satisfied and expressed confidence on the work of Thai immigration, of the Thai government, and of the Foreign Ministry yesterday".

In 2017, a young Saudi woman Dina Ali Lasloom was forcibly returned to her homeland after she was detained at Manila airport in the Philippines, and has since reportedly disappeared.

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Baloch noted the power of social media in making her plight a matter that officials could not ignore.

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