United Nations asks Australia to grant Saudi teen asylum

United Nations asks Australia to grant Saudi teen asylum

United Nations asks Australia to grant Saudi teen asylum

Thailand's immigration police chief met Tuesday with officials from the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok, as Saudi Arabia tried to distance itself from accusations that it attempted to block a young woman's effort to flee from her family and seek asylum overseas.

Alqunun arrived in Bangkok on a flight from Kuwait on Saturday, and planned to continue to Australia, for which she held a tourist visa.

UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, has found Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun is a refugee.

At Bangkok's worldwide airport, security officials stopped her and confiscated her passport, which she said was later returned.

In an earlier and separate explanation released on Twitter, the embassy also denied sending officials to Suvarnabhumi airport to meet Qunun as she arrived or impounding her passport - as she alleged.

Her plight shot to public attention when she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to avoid deportation and shared dozens of fearful but defiant messages online insisting on her right to asylum.

Her father, a Saudi government official, and brother landed in the capital last night and immediately asked to see Ms Alqunun.

While Ms McNeill boarded a flight from Sydney to Bangkok, Ms Qunun was holed up in an airport transit hotel and afraid she would be forced onto the next flight back to Kuwait.

A student at the University of Ha'il, Saudi Arabia, al-Qunun fled her family during a holiday trip to Kuwait.

Thai immigration chief Surachet Hakparn, speaking to journalists outside the Saudi Embassy after meeting with Saudi officials in Bangkok on Tuesday, said officials are concerned about Qunun's safety and well-being. But the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok claims it is only "monitoring her situation".

Her case will now be referred to Australia for consideration.

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The UNHCR has now assessed her case and found she is a refugee.

In a series of emotional posts and videos on social media, she said that she escaped from abusive relatives and fears for her life because she had publicly renounced Islam.

The Department for Home Affairs said it was "pleased" at the developments and had made representations to the Thai government about its "serious concerns on this matter and the need for Alqunun's claim to be assessed expeditiously".

She has also reportedly appealed for asylum from several European countries and Canada.

Saudi Arabia's human rights record has been under heavy scrutiny since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi previous year.

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.

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. Once, she said, her family locked her up in a room for half a year because she cut her hair in a style they disliked.

"She is now under the sovereignty of Thailand; no-one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere", he said.

Activists say Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive countries to women in the world and forbids females from obtaining a passport, traveling overseas or marrying without a male guardian's permission.

He added that he is set to meet with Saudi diplomats on Tuesday to discuss Thailand's decision on Qunun's status.

Another Saudi woman, Dina Ali Lasloom, was in April 2017 returned to Saudi Arabia from the Philippines - also against her will as she faced a forced marriage, according to a report by HRW.

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