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Australian Government Considers Asylum for Saudi Teen in Bangkok

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BANGKOK – An 18-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who has fled her family and homeland is now under the care of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) and she is applying for asylum through the UN’s refugee body, according to a Thai official.

Speaking to reporters after meeting Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Alqunun and the UNHCR official on Monday, Thailand’s Immigration Bureau Commissioner Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn denied the report that the Thai immigration police had detained the woman pending her deportation.

“The immigration police originally denied entry for Rahaf Mohammed because she did not have an immigration document, did not reserve a hotel room and did not buy a return flight ticket”, he noted.

Rahaf Mohammed fled to Thailand to avoid harsh punishment for escaping from a marriage in Saudi Arabia, he said. Thai officials convinced her to buy an air ticket to Kuwait but later she did not board the flight.

It was reported that her family had her visa to Thailand revoked and she was too young to apply for another visa by herself.

Rahaf told her story and situation via Twitter, writing she arrived at Suvarnabhumi airport at 9.30pm on Jan 5 but she could not board another flight to Australia as planned because Saudi officials seized her passport at Suvarnabhumi airport.

She also wrote that her family had locked her in a room for six months for having her hair cut. Besides, her elder brother had assaulted her and her family was upset for her decision to stop believing in Islam.

Australia said Tuesday it will “carefully consider” the asylum claim of an 18-year-old who is now in the care of the UN in Bangkok. Rahaf planned to seek asylum in Australia, fearing she would be killed if repatriated by Thai immigration officials who stopped her at the airport.

“Any application by Miss Al-Qunun for a humanitarian visa will be carefully considered once the UNHCR process has concluded,” a Department of Home Affairs official said.

Immigration Minister David Coleman is “very likely” to grant asylum to Ms Alqunun, subject to normal security vetting pro­cesses, according to The Australian.

The Saudi Embassy in Bangkok on Tuesday issued a statement, saying “what has been rumoured in social media that the embassy has seized Miss Qunun’s passport is incorrect”.

It also cited Thai authorities, saying the woman was stopped as she could not present the required documents.

“The embassy also confirms that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia did not demand her deportation back to her country,” the statement said.

It also said that the case is “a family affair”, but is under the attention of the embassy. The embassy earlier denied reports it sent officials to the airport to meet Ms Qunun following her arrival at the airport.

Calls for help by Miss Qunun prompted the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee body, to step in. UNHCR representative Giuseppe De Vincentiis visited the woman on Monday night.

The UNHCR issued a statement, also on Tuesday, saying it would look into Ms Qunun’s case “to assess her need for international protection” and that “It could take several days to process the case and determine next steps.”

Meanwhile, Immigration Bureau (IB) chief Surachate “Big Joke” Hakparn visited Abdalelah Mohammed A Alsheaiby, charge d’affaires of the Saudi embassy in Bangkok, to discuss the case. Saudi Arabia has not sent an ambassador to Thailand for decades.

Speaking after the meeting, Pol Lt Gen Surachate said the talk were satisfactory. He claimed the Saudi charge agreed with all the proceedings in relation to the case.

Pol Lt Gen Surachate stressed that it is Ms Qunun’s wish to be cared for by the UNHCR.

He said her father and brother were scheduled to arrive in Thailand Tuesday evening and that he would coordinate with the agency to arrange the meeting. Ms Qunun has said she fled Saudi Arabia in the first place because of mistreatment by her brother and father.

Pol Lt Surachate added that the two countries have agreed that the issue is a family affair in which family members must talk to each other.

Source: TNA, Bangkok Post, News AU

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