Rahaf al-Qunun: Saudi woman 'given refugee status'

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun

Thailand's Immigration Police chief says the father of the young Saudi woman who fled her family to seek asylum overseas denies physically abusing her or trying to force her into an arranged marriage, two of the reasons she gave for her flight.

The teenager has renounced Islam and wrote of being in "real danger" if forced to return to her family under pressure from Saudi authorities and has claimed she could be killed.

Ms Alqunun had planned to enter Australia on a tourist visa and seek asylum before she was detained.

She was held in an air side hotel room while Thai officials said they would put her on the next flight back.

Her urgent pleas for help over Twitter from an airport hotel room garnered tens of thousands of followers and the attention of the UN's refugee agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

"The Department. will consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals", it said in a statement.

"The government will be making no further comment on this matter", the Department said.

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On the same day, she refused to meet with her father and brother who traveled to Thailand.

The UN's refugee agency has referred her case to Australia for possible resettlement.

In a similar case, Dina Ali Lasloom, a young Saudi woman was brought back to Saudi Arabia against her will. The woman's friends, who help manage her Twitter account, said that she is exhausted from the standoff in the hotel and needs rest.

Her father and brother arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday, but al-Qunun "refused to see" them, according to Thai immigration police chief Surachate Hakparn, who has been caught up in the worldwide firestorm since al-Qunun's arrival. In interviews she claimed she could be killed.

Ms Qunun's family could not be reached to respond to her allegations of abuse.

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

The Thai immigration chief said the Saudi embassy had alerted Thai authorities to the case, saying that the woman had run away from her parents and they feared for her safety.

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Ms Alqunun alleged several times that Saudi officials were involved in seizing her passport.

The father, whose name has not been released, said he believes his daughter fled because she felt neglected.

Saudi Arabia's embassy in Thailand denied reports that Riyadh had requested her extradition. Author Mona Eltahawy hopes this will "start a revolution in Saudi Arabia". She said access to twitter had "changed the game" in what was wished for her. He said it "too early to tell" if she will be granted asylum or refugee status. "And I would have preferred it better if her phone was taken instead of her passport".

Noura, one of four friends tweeting from Ms Mohammed al-Qunun's account, told the BBC they knew each other from an online group for Saudi feminists, and that she herself had "escaped" Saudi Arabia because she is "an ex-Muslim". Go on social media now and watch accounts of so many young Saudis saying, 'Rahaf, you've shown us that we can do this!

Human rights activists had expressed concerns that Australia's government - which takes a hard line on immigration - may revoke her tourist visa.

Alqunun arrived in Bangkok on a flight from Kuwait on Saturday.

The kingdom's human rights record has been under heavy scrutiny since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country's embassy in Istanbul past year.

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