Friday, 22 March, 2019

Father of Saudi woman seeking asylum arrives in Thailand, wants meeting

Rahaf al-Qunun: Dad of Saudi refugee arrives in Bangkok Thailand | Daily Star Saudi teenager could escape to Australia as government said it would 'carefully consider' her claim
Ellis Copeland | 13 January, 2019, 08:25

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

Surachate discussed her case on Tuesday with Saudi Charge d'Affaires in Thailand Abdalelah Mohammed A. Alsheaiby.

After Qunun learned of her deportation, she locked herself in a hotel room inside Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport to avoid her unwilled return to a family that would allegedly kill her, following her repudiation of Islam.

The department said it would "consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals".

The Department for Home Affairs said it was "pleased" at the developments and had made representations to the Thai government about its "serious concerns on this matter and the need for Alqunun's claim to be assessed expeditiously".

However, officials in Australia hinted that her request will be accepted.

The Thai immigration chief said on Monday the embassy had alerted Thai authorities to the case, and said that the woman had run away from her parents and they feared for her safety.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia would consider giving Ms Alqunun a humanitarian visa if the UNHCR process found her to be a refugee.

Under the hashtag #SaveRahaf, the young woman's desperate pleas became a social media sensation, and she was able to post live updates and videos from the Bangkok airport in both Arabic and English, racking up more than 80,000 followers. The UNHCR is now evaluating her asylum claim, which is expected to take up to a week.

Saudi Arabia has strict social rules, including a requirement women have permission from a male "guardian" to travel. Describing her case as a "family affair", it said Saudi officials had neither seized her passport - as Alqunun had claimed several times - nor demanded her deportation back home.

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"We are very grateful that the Thai authorities did not send back [Alqanun] against her will and are extending protection to her".

Within 36 hours it prompted Thailand's government to reverse a decision to force the young woman onto a plane that would return her to her family.

"He wanted to make sure that his daughter was safe. he told me that he wanted to take her home", he said, adding that her father denied Ms Alqunun's allegation that her family was abusing her physically and emotionally.

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.

A United Nations spokesperson told NPR that the refugee agency has had no contact with either family member but that the father and son are communicating with Thai authorities to try to meet with Alqunun.

"I am not surprised if we see more girls doing what Rahaf has done".

Thailand is not a signatory of the United Nations convention on refugees and those seeking protection are often left in years of limbo as they wait for third countries to grant them asylum.

"I wish you had taken her phone, it would have been better than [taking] her passport", a Saudi official said during the meeting, as quoted by Reuters.

Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has come under fire since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country's consulate in Istanbul previous year.

Human Rights Watch earlier called on the Australian government to allow Alqunun's entry into that country, amid worries about her visa status. However, Immigration Minister David Coleman is "very likely" to grant asylum if the 18-year-old passes all checks.

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