With Phone And Hashtag, Saudi Asylum Seeker Outflanks Thai Authorities


A Saudi woman who fled her family in hopes of seeking asylum in Australia, only to be detained in Thailand, may receive Australia's protection after all.

Human Rights Watch earlier called on the Australian government to allow Alqunun's entry into that country, amid worries about her visa status.

"Any application by Ms Al-Qunun for a humanitarian visa will be carefully considered once the UNHCR process has concluded", a Department of Home Affairs official told AFP.

Upon arriving to Bangkok, she was met by a Saudi diplomat who seized her passport which meant that she does not meet the Thai visa requirements.

The teenager then barricaded herself inside her room at an airport hotel, and requested to speak to the United Nations refugee office.

Alqunun's father and brother arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday evening and have asked to see her, but Alqunun has refused to meet them.

The Saudi government has denied claims it sent officials to bring Ms Alqunun back to the kingdom.

On Sunday Thai authorities said Qunun would be sent back to Saudi Arabia, but they abruptly changed course as her plight pinballed across social media.

Thailand initially said it would deport her at the request of Saudi embassy officials, barring her from travelling on to Australia where Ms Qunun said she had meant to claim asylum. Hakparn ensured that they will "take care of her as best we can", and that "she is now under the sovereignty of Thailand; no-one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere".

"The father is now here in Thailand and that's a source of concern", Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch's deputy director for Asia, told Reuters.

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In this photo released by the Thailand Immigration Bureau, Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, foreground, walks by the chief of Immigration Police, Maj. However, in repeated statements, including one issued Tuesday, the Saudi Embassy in Thailand said it is only monitoring her situation.

"Al-Qunun says she doesn't want to meet with her father or brother".

Renouncing Islam is a crime punishable by death under the Saudi system of syariah, or Islamic law, though the punishment has not been carried out in recent memory. "This should be the standard for any individual who claims that his or her life is in danger".

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".

Her fate on arriving back in Saudi Arabia remains unknown. She alleged that she was being subjected to physical and psychological abuse by her family.

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.

Activists say Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive countries to women in the world and forbids females from obtaining a passport, traveling overseas or marrying without a male guardian's permission.

Thai immigration services said that such a meeting is possible only with approval from United Nations personnel. In a video clip of the meeting released by Thai immigration police, Alsheaiby is heard telling Thai officials: "From the moment she arrived, she opened a new account and her followers reached nearly 45,000 in a day".

Saudi Arabia's embassy in Thailand on January 8 denied reports that Saudi Arabia had requested her extradition, according to Reuters.

For more than 24 hours she fed global media, rights campaigners and a concerned public a stream of dramatic videos and descriptions of her ordeal.