Published: Wed, January 09, 2019
Worldwide | By Jermaine Blake

UNHCR finds Australia-bound Saudi teen to be refugee

UNHCR finds Australia-bound Saudi teen to be refugee

The 18-year-old is now in the care of United Nations officials, who say it will take about five days to process her request for assistance.

Australia national broadcaster ABC reported that the country's Home Affairs Department announced late Tuesday that it would consider Alqunun's application for asylum if she was found to be a genuine refugee, and called on the Thai authorities and UNHCR to assess her claim as quickly as possible.

The teenager, who claimed that she has been physically and mentally abused by her family, attracted global media attention when she made a desperate call for asylum through her Twitter account claiming that she would be killed if she was returned to her family.

While there has been a groundswell of support for Qunun to be granted refugee status and resettled in Australia, Peter Dutton, a hardliner in Australia's conservative government, said: "There is no special circumstance for anybody in this situation".

The decision marks a significant victory for the 18-year-old, who is now in Bangkok where she says Thai authorities attempted to block her from travelling to Australia to claim asylum.

"Australia is a signatory to the convention and to the protocols, as you know, and we will work with the United Nations, but there is no special treatment in this case", Mr Dutton said.

"The UNHCR has referred Ms Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement", the Department of Home Affairs said in a statement.

Al-Qunun herself tweeted on Monday that she was hoping for asylum in Canada, the U.S., Britain or Australia, and then on Tuesday morning she tweeted again, focusing her interest in Canada in particular.

Surachate said al-Qunun's father and brother were due to arrive soon in Bangkok, but that it was her decision whether to meet with them.

"We are in close contact with partners about her situation".

Saudi Arabia enforces male guardianship laws, which require that women, regardless of age, have the consent of a male relative - usually a father or husband - to travel, obtain a passport or marry.

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But she was stopped en route by authorities in Thailand at the request of the Saudi government, which demanded the woman return to her family. She said access to twitter had "changed the game" in what was wished for her. "We will not send anyone to die".

She made her escape during a family trip to Kuwait, where she purchased flights to Thailand and Australia.

However, there has so far been no evidence her life is in actual danger.

She said she had asserted her independence, but had been forced to pray and wear a hijab and alleged she had been beaten by her brother.

"If my family come, they will kill me", she said in a video archived on Twitter. It said the embassy is not communicating with the teenager, but is communicating with Thai authorities.

"It could take several days to process the case and determine the next steps", he said in the statement.

"Rahaf is not a political asylum case", he insisted.

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

"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not asked for her extradition".

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had styled himself as a reformer, with women recently granted the right to drive, but these cases raise questions over how the regime exercises control.

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