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Australia to 'consider' Saudi woman's asylum plea

09 January 2019

A Saudi woman who fled her family in hopes of seeking asylum in Australia, only to be detained in Thailand, may receive Australia's protection after all.

It said any application by Alqunun for a humanitarian visa would be "carefully considered" once the UNHCR process has concluded.

Saudi's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that its embassy in Bangkok was in contact with the father "as it's the Embassy's role to inform him on her situation and the date of her return".

Through her newly launched Twitter account, Rahaf has been calling on all several country to help her seek refugee status including the US, UK, Canada and Australia.

"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.

In her pleas online, the young woman specifically asked for asylum in the United States, the UK, Canada and Australia.

Qunun's father and brother arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday evening and have asked to see her.

But who is Rahaf al-Qunun and why is her life in danger?

The embassy, along with Thai officials, earlier said that al-Qunun 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 flag about the reasons for her trip.

"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.

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.

"The father and brother want to go and talk to Rahaf but the United Nations will need to approve such talk", Surachate told reporters.

Activists say Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive countries to women in the world and forbids females from obtaining a passport, traveling overseas or marrying without a male guardian's permission.

"Only she can make that choice, she's an adult woman who can make her own decisions", Robertson wrote. "She fled hardship. Thailand is a land of smiles".

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

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

Ms Alqunun made a plea for protection from a number of countries including Australia, though her connections to the nation are unclear.

"What is truly appalling is how the Saudi Arabian government has acted in sending an official to physically seize her passport from her in Bangkok airport global transit", Robertson said.

The 18-year-old was stopped by officials in Thailand who confiscated her passport.

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".

It comes at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen. She was forced to return to Saudi Arabia and was not publicly heard from again, according to activists tracking her whereabouts.

Australia to 'consider' Saudi woman's asylum plea