Thailand: Saudi Asylum Seeker Fleeing Alleged Family Abuse Will Fly To Canada

In this Monday Jan. 7 2019 image made from video released by Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun  Human Rights Watch Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun views her mobile phone as she sits barricaded in a hotel room at an international airport in Bangkok Thailand. Alqunun says

Police Chief Surachate Hakparn said the 18-year-old woman, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, would leave late Friday evening.

Ms Alqunun arrived in Bangkok on a flight from Kuwait on Saturday and planned to continue to Australia, for which she held a tourist visa.

She has refused to see her father who travelled to Thailand and expressed opposition to her resettlement.

"And actually his tribe is one of the largest tribes in Saudi Arabia, so it's quite influential and she certainly would have faced grievous physical harm and perhaps death if she had been sent back based on what I've been told by our researcher and others", he said.

Ms Alqunun and her supporters drew global attention to her case through a social media campaign launched mostly on Twitter.

Alqunun, who was stopped by Thai authorities, had barricaded herself in her room and demanded to meet with representatives of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Payne was also asked by reporters about the case of Hakeem al-Araibi, a 25-year-old former member of Bahrain's national soccer team, who was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017 after fleeing his homeland, where he said he was persecuted and tortured.

The Department of Home Affairs is yet to confirm the reports.

Australia had said on Wednesday that it was considering taking in Qunun.

There was "no possibility" that al-Qunun would return to Australia with her yesterday, said Payne, who declined to speculate on a timeframe for giving the Saudi teen asylum if she were granted refugee status.

She has also denounced Islam and cut her hair.

Thailand's immigration police chief, Surachate Hakparn, told reporters the United Nations was accelerating the case, though he gave no indication of when the process would be complete.

Thai immigration officials had initially said she should return to Kuwait, where her family were waiting.

Though her asylum case has moved at lightning speed the mystery over which country will accept Rahaf remains.

A similar point was made by UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch, who said that what was different in Alqunun's case was that "the wave of all of the voices of solidarity and support came together, joined up in terms of caring for this individual".

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.

The decision to grant her asylum is likely to cause a further strain in relations with Saudi Arabia. Saudi religious law forbids her to travel alone without permission of her male guardian. She has accused her family of abuse, and said she feared they would kill her.

Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Jan. 7, 2019.

Her Twitter account gained more than 100,000 followers over six days but the teenager reportedly suspended her profile on Friday after receiving "some very nasty, very real death threats".

"It would have been better if they had confiscated her mobile instead of her passport".

Saudi Arabia has come under fire since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country's consulate in Istanbul past year. He is obligated to do everything in his power to advocate, both privately and publicly, and to use the vast leverage that football has, with the Bahrain government, his own government, he's a Bahrainian national, and also with the Thai government to release Hakeem.



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