Published: Wed, January 09, 2019
Global Media | By Derrick Guzman

Saudi woman 'given refugee status'

Saudi woman 'given refugee status'

She said she would be imprisoned or worse if she was sent back to Saudi Arabia, telling Human Rights Watch she was fleeing abuse from her family, including beatings and death threats from male relatives, who forced her to remain in her room for six months for cutting her hair.

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

It will take the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) "several days" to determine whether Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, needs worldwide protection, the organization's representative in Thailand said.

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.

"What is truly appalling is how the Saudi Arabian government has acted in sending an official to physically seize her passport from her in Bangkok airport global transit", Robertson said.

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.

It comes after the teenager's father and brother arrived in Bangkok with the intention of seeing her - but Thai police say she is refusing to meet them.

"We are very grateful that the Thai authorities did not send back Ms. Al-qunun against her will and are extending protection for her", UNHCR Thailand country representative Giuseppe de Vicentiis was quoted as saying in a statement released on Tuesday morning.

But she has said Saudi officials tried to trick her and surrounded the hotel room she had barricaded herself in, planning to force her back home, where she believes her family would try to kill her.

But a government source told The Australian the visa had not been revoked.

Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun walks with Thai immigration authorities at a hotel inside Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, on January 7, 2019. She also gave access to her social media account to her friend Noura, who also fled Saudi Arabia because she renounced Islam.

Her case will now be referred to Australia for consideration.

A spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees at its Geneva headquarters, Babar Baloch, said Tuesday it's premature to say what will happen next, but that it could take several days for the agency to look into al-Qunun's claims.

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.

"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not asked for her extradition". "This should be the standard for any individual who claims that his or her life is in danger".

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun arrived at the Thai capital's main airport on a flight from Kuwait over the weekend after running away from her family, who she says subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

By about 7.30pm on Monday, Mr Surachate told reporters Ms Qunun would be allowed to enter Thailand and apply for asylum in a third country.

In an interview with Saudi-owned TV channel Khalijia, the embassy official said that the woman's father contacted the diplomatic mission for "help" bringing her back.

Thai immigration chief Surachet Hakparn speaks outside the Saudi embassy after a meeting with Saudi officials in Bangkok on Tuesday. "We don't know whether he is going to try to get the embassy to do that", Robertson said.

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

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