Saudi woman is refugee, Australia must resettle

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Had there been no Twitter, it can safely be assumed, Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, an 18-year old Saudi woman who fled her family, country and religion could have been dead.

Australian Government sources said Alqunun would be refused entry on the tourist visa because it did not reflect the real reason for her trip.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt told ABC TV on January 8 the government had successfully requested the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to process her case quickly.

Qanun hails from the province of Al-Sulaimi in the Saudi interior, where she told Asia Times that her father, Mohammed al-Qanun, is the governor.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said "the claims made by Ms al-Qunun that she may be harmed if returned to Saudi Arabia are deeply concerning".

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

She said that her family threatens her live for "the most trivial things", and refused to go back in fear of losing her life.

The 18-year-old Saudi national said she had "left her religion" and begged for shelter from either Canada, the US, Australia or the United Kingdom in a series of frantic twitter posts.

Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun walks with Thai immigration authorities at a hotel inside Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, on January 7, 2019.

Fearing for her life should Thai authorities decide to repatriate her, she barricaded herself in her hotel room at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok and demanded United Nations protection before she could leave.

"Please I need u all".

Halfway around the world, retweets by Saudi Twitter users were noticed by Egyptian-American activist Mona Eltahawy in Montreal who began translating and retweeting Ms Qunun's Arabic tweets at 4am Thailand time, even though she was initially unsure if the account was authentic.

After protracted negotiations overnight Monday, Ms Alqunun was placed under the protection of the United Nations.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, pictured at Bangkok airport, says she "wants to be free" away from Saudi Arabia.

Alqunun tweeted that her father had arrived at the Bangkok airport, which had "scared" her, but said she felt "safe" with the UNHCR.

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"It was the Thai authorities that took her passport for processing and booked her the hotel".

"Since Thailand is the 'Land of Smiles, ' of course we won't send someone to their death", he said. "We will not send anyone to d‌i‌e", he was quoted as saying. We will not do that.

Asylum seekers gain little sympathy from Thai authorities, who are accused of appeasing repressive countries in a diplomatic charm offensive that targets government relations at the expense of human rights. Alanazi noted that a representative from the Saudi embassy had arrived to the airport to accompany the young woman back as she was considered a youth.

Qunun was stopped in Bangkok as she was trying to reach Australia to seek asylum after escaping from her family during a holiday in Kuwait.

On Sunday, Ms Qunun told AFP her family was "abusive" and once locked her in a room for six months just for cutting her hair.

"If my family come, they will kill me", she said in a video archived on Twitter.

Alqunun's plea for asylum made global headlines when she began sending Twitter messages on January 6 after being detained at Bangkok Airport.

But when she arrived in Bangkok she said a Saudi diplomat met her at the airport and tricked her into handing over her passport and ticket, saying he would secure a visa.

Within 36 hours it prompted Thailand's government to reverse a decision to force the young woman onto a plane that would return her to her family.

Thai immigration chief Surachet Hakparn speaks outside the Saudi embassy after a meeting with Saudi officials in Bangkok on Tuesday.

He said both countries were treating the issue as a private family matter and looking for a solution together, adding the UNHCR's processes would take five days.

Speaking to The Guardian, Qunun's friend Nourah Alharbi said the outpouring of support on social media had made a huge difference.

In 2017, Dina Lasloom triggered an online firestorm when she was stopped en route to Australia where she planned to seek asylum.

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

The latest incident comes against the backdrop of intense scrutiny on Saudi Arabia over the shocking murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi previous year, which has renewed criticism of the kingdom's rights record.