Australia will consider asylum bid of Saudi woman who fled to Thailand

Australia will consider asylum bid of Saudi woman who fled to Thailand

Australia will consider asylum bid of Saudi woman who fled to Thailand

Thailand's immigration police chief met Tuesday with officials from the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok, as Saudi Arabia tried to distance itself from accusations that it tried to block a young woman's effort to flee her family and seek asylum overseas.

A student at the University of Ha'il, Saudi Arabia, al-Qunun fled her family during a holiday trip to Kuwait.

"The Australian Embassy in Thailand has made representations to both the Thai Government and the Bangkok office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to seek assurances that Ms Al-Qunun can access the UNHCR's refugee status determination process in Thailand", said a statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The chief of immigration police Surachate Hakparn said "the Saudi Arabia embassy contacted the immigration police... and said that the girl had run away from her parents and they feared for her safety".

The woman, whose predicament went viral via her Twitter account, told Human Rights Watch that she had arrived at Bangkok's main airport on January 5 from Kuwait, and that her passport was seized, preventing her from traveling to Australia.

This handout picture taken and released by Thai Immigration Bureau on January 7, 2019 shows 18-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qanun, middle, being escorted by the Thai immigration officer and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees officials at the Suvarnabhumi global airport in Bangkok.

Her father, a Saudi government official, and brother landed in the capital last night and immediately asked to see Ms Alqunun.

Her ordeal began long before she boarded a flight from Kuwait to Australia with a stopover for a flight change at Bangkok Airport.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, was planning to fly to the country on a tourist visa and apply for asylum but was detained by Thai authorities at Bangkok airport on Sunday.

Her family has so far not commented on her accusations.

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

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Thailand is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and provides no legal protection to asylum seekers, although there are more than 100,000 refugees in the country.

The 18-year-old Saudi Arabian woman is hoping to seek asylum overseas and barricaded herself inside a hotel in Bangkok to prevent being expelled by Thai authorities.

"The father and brother want to go and talk to Rahaf but the United Nations will need to approve such talk", immigration chief Surachate Hakpan told reporters.

Instead, they confirmed she would have been refused entry to Australia as the visa was not reflective of her intended stay in the country.

Women in Saudi Arabia are subject to male guardianship laws, which mean they need a male relative's permission to work, travel, marry, open a bank account, or even leave prison.

Within hours of launching the petition it had secured thousands of signatures.

Speaking to Reuters via text and audio messages she alleged her family had threatened to kill her.

Australian officials have strongly hinted that Qunun's request will be accepted.

The plan was originally to put the 18-year-old on a plane back to Kuwait on Monday, January 7.

The latest incident comes against the backdrop of intense scrutiny on Saudi Arabia over the shocking murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi a year ago, which has renewed criticism of the kingdom's rights record. She was forced to return to Saudi Arabia and was not publicly heard from again, according to activists tracking her whereabouts.

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