Saudi teen Rahaf Alqunun's claim for asylum referred to Australia for consideration

Australia to'consider Saudi woman's asylum plea

The Australian government said on Tuesday that it will "carefully consider" the asylum claim by Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, who fled alleged abuse from her family and is now in the care of the United Nations humanitarian agency in Bangkok after she fended off deportation in a gripping, live-tweeted ordeal.

In the early hours of Sunday, Jan. 6, Rahaf began tweeting for help: "I'm in real danger because the Saudi embassy trying to forcing (sic) me to go back to Saudi Arabia, while I'm at the airport waiting for my second flight", she tweeted to the world.

Qunun is staying in a Bangkok hotel while the UNHCR processes her application for refugee status, before she can seek asylum in a third country.

Activists are concerned about what Saudi Arabia will do after Thai authorities reversed a decision to expel her and allowed Qunun to enter the country under the care of the UNHCR.

"When she arrived, she opened a new (Twitter) account and her followers grew to 45,000 in one day", he said in Arabic.

"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. Al-Qunun's father and brother arrived in Bangkok seeking a talk with her.

Qunun has now more than 90,000 followers on Twitter, while a petition on Change.org asking to grant her asylum in Britain had reached more nearly 80,000 signatures by Tuesday evening.

The embassy - and Thai officials - earlier also said that Alqunun was stopped by Thai authorities in Bangkok because she did not have a return ticket, a hotel reservation or itinerary to show she was a tourist, which appeared to have raised a red flag about the reasons for her trip.

Thailand is not a signatory to a United Nations convention on refugees, and asylum seekers are typically deported or wait years to be resettled in third countries.

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"She's an adult woman who has escaped Saudi Arabia's repressive and discriminatory "guardianship" laws and these men must recognize the rules have changed", he said, adding it is "solely her decision" whether or not to meet them.

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

Qunun has said she believes she will be imprisoned or killed if sent back, and that her family is so strict they once locked her in a room for six months for cutting her hair. "Thailand is a land of smiles".

'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'.

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

"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.

Al-Qunun's supporters believe her visa to Australia may have been cancelled as she reportedly found she was unable to log into her Australian government immigration profile.

Saudi activists say the kingdom, through its embassies overseas, has at times put pressure on border patrol agents in foreign countries to deport the women back to Saudi Arabia. She was forced to return to Saudi Arabia and was not publicly heard from again, according to activists tracking her whereabouts.

In October, the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey further heightened tensions and put global scrutiny on the country's human rights record.

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