Friday, 18 January, 2019

Australia mulls Saudi teen's asylum request as UNHCR takes charge of case

A Saudi woman held at Suvarnabhumi airport in Thailand said she would be killed if she was repatriated by Thai immigration officials. — Reuters pic Saudi woman barricades herself in Thai hotel fearing relatives will kill her at home
Andrew Cummings | 10 January, 2019, 01:44

She landed at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok where someone took her passport, assuring her of getting a visa for Thailand. "My life is in danger".

Alqunun arrived at Bangkok's main airport on a flight from Kuwait after running away from her family, who she alleges subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

She has been granted a temporary stay in the Southeast Asian country, under the protection of the UNHCR, which will spend about a week processing her asylum claim. "We will not send someone back to die", said the Thai immigration chief, Major General Surachate Hakparn, according to the New York Times.

Photos released Monday night by immigration police showed Alqunun with Thai and United Nations officials after she left the airport transit hotel room where she had been holed up over the weekend, sending her pleas for help on her Twitter account.

Thai authorities say they will not facilitate her forced deportation.

Under Saudi Arabia's strict male guardianship laws, women must have the consent of a male relative to travel, obtain a passport or marry. Thailand have since reversed plans to expel the teenager due to concerns over her safety, the immigration chief said.

The immigration police released photos of Surachate and his team sitting down with Saudi embassy charge d'affaires Abdulilah al-Shouaibi.

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun tweeted that her father had arrived, "which anxious and scared me a lot", but said she felt safe "under UNHCR protection with the agreement of Thailand authorities".

Its latest statement, which described Alqunun's case as a "family affair", said Saudi Arabia did not demand her deportation back home.

David Coleman, the Australian immigration minister, is understood to be ready to grant asylum to Ms Alqunun if she is assessed as a genuine refugee by the United Nations and passes character and security checks, ...

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Qunun posted dozens of tweets and live videos in English and Arabic, some describing how she had barricaded herself in a hotel room.

In one of her tweets, she said, "I have been threatened by several staff from the Saudi embassy and the Kuwaiti airlines, and they said "If you run, we will find you and kidnap you, then deal with you" I really don't know how they are going to behave in case I run". I've seen Rahaf's Australian visa which was valid - but yesterday when she was trying to log into her immigration online profile that appeared to no longer be working?

She said she believed she was stopped after her family appealed to Kuwait Airways.

Alqunun has also claimed that her family has prevented her from continuing her education - and said she feels "oppressed" because she has not been allowed to drive or travel.

"UNHCR consistently advocates that refugees and asylum seekers - having been confirmed or claimed to be in need of worldwide protection - can not be returned to their countries of origin according to the principle of non-refoulement", the UNHCR said in a statement.

Elaine Pearson, the director of Human Rights Watch Australia, said the country should "come forward and offer protection for this young woman".

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, feared she would be killed if she was forced to return home.

Another Saudi woman, Dina Ali Lasloom, was stopped in transit in the Philippines in April 2017 when she attempted to flee her family.

Thai immigration authorities denied Qunun's allegations they were acting at the behest of the Saudi government, saying she was refused entry to Thailand on Saturday night because she did not have the proper documents for a visa on arrival, including proof of an onward ticket, Reuters reported.

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