United Nations says Saudi teen is refugee, asks Australia to resettle

Rahaf had said her family would kill her if she was sent back

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, arrived in Bangkok from Kuwait late Saturday after slipping away from the family she has accused of abusing her. Qunun said it was her intention from there to seek asylum in Australia, but she was stopped by officials in Thailand, who confiscated her passport.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun has documented her bid to flee her allegedly abusive family with minute-by-minute social media updates, intensifying the global spotlight on Saudi Arabia's rights record.

The home affairs department said it will "consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals".

"We will take her into Bangkok and provide her with safe shelter under the care of the UNHCR", Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters on Monday after United Nations officials escorted her out of the hotel.

Thai immigration officials had initially said she should return to Kuwait.

"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.

But she had only 24 followers and her first tweets went without being noticed until the BBC picked up the story.

Now her dad has arrived in Bangkok with the wish to "talk to her", Thailand's immigration chief said today. Saudi officials have denied any involvement in her case.

"The decision to meet with the family is ultimately Ms. Al Qunun's and the responsibility for her safety and physical protection lies with the Thai authorities", UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch told NPR.

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.

United Nations says Saudi teen is refugee, asks Australia to resettle
United Nations says Saudi teen is refugee, asks Australia to resettle

She was finally allowed to enter Thailand late on Monday after spending 48 hours at Bangkok airport, some of it barricaded in a transit lounge hotel room.

Giuseppe de Vincentiis, UNHCR's Thailand representative, said in a statement: "It could take several days to process the case and determine next steps".

The 18-year-old Saudi Arabian woman is hoping to seek asylum overseas and barricaded herself inside a hotel in Bangkok to prevent being expelled by Thai authorities.

"If she goes home it will be unsafe for her so Thailand is ready to help", General Surachate Hakparn, the head of Thailand's immigration police, told the media.

Robertson told CBC's As it Happens that the 18-year old was confined to her room for nearly six months. "She fled hardship. Thailand is a land of smiles".

Saudi Arabia has some of the world's toughest restrictions on women, including a guardianship system that allows male family members to make decisions on behalf of female relatives.

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

Saudi Arabia's human rights record has been under heavy scrutiny since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi late past year.

Thai immigration chief Surachet Hakparn, speaking to journalists outside the Saudi Embassy after meeting with Saudi officials in Bangkok on Tuesday, said officials are concerned about Qunun's safety and well-being. She was forced to return to Saudi Arabia and was not publicly heard from again, according to activists tracking her whereabouts.

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