Australia weighs Saudi woman's refugee bid

Lester Mason
January 12, 2019

"AlAraibi was granted permanent residency by the Australian government in recognition of his status as a refugee", Payne said in a statement, saying that she would seek his safe return to Australia. She had hoped to travel to Australia where she has friends before she was detained at the Bangkok airport this past weekend and threatened with deportation.

He said he would talk to the United Nations refugee agency about the potential of a meeting between the family members.

He said the Thai government "needs to explain why diplomats from Saudi Arabia are allowed to walk in closed areas of the Bangkok airport, seizing one of their citizen's passports". Public pressure prompted Thai officials to return her passport and let her temporarily stay in Thailand.

"The UNHCR has referred Ms Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement", the Australia Department of Home Affairs told NPR in a statement, referring to the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. But who is Rahaf al-Qunun and why is her life in danger?

Ms al-Qunun's father and brother arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday but she refused to see them.

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 Ms Al-Qunun's claim to be assessed expeditiously".

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

Al-Qunun and her supporters drew the world's attention to her case through a global social media campaign launched mostly on social media.

Ms Alqunun later tweeted the video and wrote that her "Twitter account has changed the game against what he wished for me".

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

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.

However, Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakpan said the men would have to wait to learn whether the UN's refugee agency would allow them to.

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.

A British woman launched an online petition calling on Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to grant al-Qunun asylum and issue her an emergency travel document.

Global pressure has mounted on Thai authorities to keep Alqunun safe and to ensure she isn't forcibly returned to the Saudi kingdom, which has been subject to worldwide condemnation over the killing of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

But a government source told The Australian the visa had not been revoked.

"Thailand is concerned about their diplomatic relations, their political relations, their economic relations, and their military relations with certain countries,"says Emily Arnold-Fernández, executive director of Asylum Access".

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the activist said there had been instances where Saudi women runaways were stopped by authorities in Hong Kong or the Philippines en route to Australia or New Zealand.

Some Saudi female runaways fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum overseas in recent years. Qunun then used social media to seek help from different countries.

Saudi Arabia's wider human rights record has come under intense scrutiny since the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in October.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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