Thursday, 17 January, 2019

Saudi runaway woman to depart Thailand for Canada asylum: Thai immigration chief

Rahaf Mohammed Al Qunun is currently in the care of United Nations officials Rahaf Mohammed Al Qunun is currently in the care of United Nations
Ellis Copeland | 11 January, 2019, 22:49

Alqunun's case has again highlighted the precarious cause of women's rights in Saudi Arabia.

Sophie McNeill, a reporter with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who got in contact with al-Qunun while she was stuck in the airport hotel room and has kept in touch with her, said Friday in a Twitter posting that al-Qunun "is safe and fine".

Ms Qunun had told the Daily Mail Australia on Friday she was happy to "start a new life" in Australia and that she had been provided with an apartment for three months although she didn't know where it would be.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR had referred Ms Alqunun's protection request to Australia on Wednesday, though it had not been confirmed before now that Canada was also considering her case.

But according to UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards, the organisation can not confirm at this stage whether it has in deed withdrawn its referral to Australia.

During her trip, Payne met with her Thai counterpart, Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.

Her tweet garnered plenty of reactions on social media, which speculated the reasons for the account deactivation.

Qunun arrived at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport in transit from Kuwait last Saturday, when she was denied entry by Thai immigration officials.

Thai officials agreed to admit her temporarily under the protection of United Nations officials who granted her refugee status on Wednesday. In downtown Sydney on Thursday, four women dressed in jeans and calling themselves the Secret Sisterhood held a topless protest outside the building housing the Saudi Consulate, calling on Australia to grant Alqunun residency.

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Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun (pictured) reacted to news Australia was considering granting her asylum, saying, "Is it true???"

Surachate said Alqunun's father wanted his daughter back but respected her decision.

Thailand's immigration chief said Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun would be leaving the country on Friday after she was granted asylum in Canada.

Despite reports the 18-year-old was heading to Australia, it appears she may be headed to Canada after the UNHCR withdrew its referral, The Australian reported.

The next day, Canada's Foreign Ministry issued a tweet calling on Saudi Arabia to "immediately release" Samar Badawi as well as "all other peaceful #humanrights activists". She later told reporters that Australia assessing Alqunun's request for resettlement, but there was no specific timeframe.

The country's government yesterday said it would consider her application if one was lodged by the UNHCR.

Thai immigration officials had initially said she should return to Kuwait, where her family were waiting.

Experts agree the media focus on al-Qunun's case has put pressure on officials in Thailand - which usually have little sympathy for asylum seekers - to act quickly. It said her case had inspired millions and should remind people of the bravery and sacrifices of people who flee their native lands for safety.

Her Twitter account gained more than 100,000 followers over six days but the teenager reportedly suspended her profile on Friday after receiving "some very nasty, very real death threats".

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