Saudi woman 'given refugee status'

Teen Locks Herself in Room After Fleeing Allegedly Abusive Family

The Thai immigration police chief yesterday met with Saudi Embassy officials in Bangkok as Saudi Arabia tried to distance itself from accusations that it tried to block a young woman trying to flee her family and seek asylum in Australia.

In a brief statement, Australia's Department of Home Affairs said it would "consider this referral in the usual way". But the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok claims it is only "monitoring her situation".

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.

Her plight shot to public attention when she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to avoid deportation and shared dozens of fearful but defiant messages online insisting on her right to asylum. But as her desperate calls for help quickly attracted human rights campaigners and United Nations refugee staffers intervened, they promised not to deport her.

"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.

"She is now under the sovereignty of Thailand; no-one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere", he said.

Alqunun's father - a senior Saudi official - and her brother, who she says often physically abused her, are now in Thailand.

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun's case echoes that of another Saudi woman who was in transit to Australia in April 2017.

A group called the Secret Sisterhood has set up a GoFundMe page to raise cash for Qunun once she is resettled in another country.

She has reiterated her plea for asylum in Canada, the United States, Australia or the UK and is now staying at a Thai government shelter while the UN refugee agency assesses her case.

"Her time in Thailand is uncertain and while it's positive that she has access to UNHCR and her case is being reviewed, we know that the Thai authorities have kept other individuals and those who've sought asylum in reprimand, in detention, waiting for long periods of time to be granted asylum", she said.

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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.

In Geneva, UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told reporters the process looking into Qunun's "asylum claim has started" and could take several days.

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.

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

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

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.

'Pending the outcome of that, if she is found to be a refugee, then we will give very, very, very serious consideration to a humanitarian visa'.

"We are very grateful that the Thai authorities did not send back Ms. Al-qunun against her will and are extending protection for her", UNHCR Thailand country representative Giuseppe de Vicentiis was quoted as saying in a statement released on Tuesday morning.

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

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

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