Australia May Issue Visa for Saudi Woman Who Says She Fled Abuse

Minnie Murray
January 9, 2019

Saudi Arabia's embassy in Thailand has denied reports that Riyadh had requested the extradition of a young Saudi women seeking asylum in Thailand, the embassy said on Twitter.

Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Al-Qunun will instead have a chance to make her asylum case to the United Nations refugee agency.

Australia's Department of Home Affairs hinted at the possibility of granting Alqunun refugee status, saying it was "pleased" the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was assessing her claim.

As pressure grew, with concern expressed by Australian lawmakers, Germany's ambassador to Thailand and human rights agencies, Thai officials agreed to allow U.N refugee officials to meet with her.

She says her passport has now been returned to her, after it was reportedly seized by a Saudi diplomat when she flew into Thailand.

Her ordeal at the Bangkok airport riveted social media as she posted videos and constantly updated her followers while barricading herself in her hotel room.

According to 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, she fled from her family during a trip to Kuwait to escape the physical and psychological a‌b‌us‌e she received from them.

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.

Thailand initially said it would deport her at the request of Saudi embassy officials, barring her from travelling on to Australia where Ms Qunun said she had meant to claim asylum.

But a government source told The Australian the visa had not been revoked.

In this photo released by the Thailand Immigration Bureau, Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, foreground, walks by the chief of Immigration Police, Maj.

"I want Canada to give me asylum!" she tweeted in the early morning on Tuesday.

"Her time in Thailand is uncertain and while it's positive that she has access to UNHCR and her case is being reviewed, we know that the Thai authorities have kept other individuals and those who've sought asylum in reprimand, in detention, waiting for long periods of time to be granted asylum", she said.

She is staying in a Bangkok hotel while the UNHCR processes her application for refugee status, before she can seek asylum in a third country. "If I go back to Saudi Arabia, I will be dead".

The Saudi embassy at the time issued a statement referring to the case as a "family" matter.

"The government has made representations to the Thai government and the Bangkok office of the UNHCR about its serious concerns on this matter and the need for's claim to be assessed expeditiously", the statement from Home Affairs said.

He said he would talk to the United Nations refugee agency about a potential meeting between the family members. She claimed her life would be in danger if she was returned to her family.

It also said the embassy had made contact with her father, a senior regional government official in the kingdom, "to inform him on her situation".

Her case has drawn new global attention to Saudi Arabia's strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male "guardian" to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the activist said there had been instances where Saudi women runaways were stopped by authorities in Hong Kong or the Philippines en route to Australia or New Zealand.

He then "heard her screaming and begging for help from her room, after which he saw them carry her out with duct tape on her mouth, feet and hands".

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