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09 January 2019, 09:12 | Darnell Patrick
Saudi Teen Safe in Thailand, For Now
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.
Alqunun said she planned to seek asylum in Australia, fearing she would be killed if repatriated by Thai immigration officials who stopped her at the airport.
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".
But while she was in the air, her influential father had alerted Saudi authorities who in turn pressured Thai authorities at Bangkok airport to seize her passport and deny her access to her connecting flight to Sydney on Saturday.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport from Kuwait on the weekend after slipping away from a family holiday.
In her pleas online, the young woman specifically asked for asylum in the U.S., the UK, Canada and Australia. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, the young woman's father and brother were due to arrive soon in Bangkok, but it would be Alqunun's decision whether to meet with them.
"Australia is a signatory to the convention and to the protocols, as you know, and we will work with the United Nations, but there is no special treatment in this case", Mr Dutton said.
"Any application by Ms.al-Qunun for a humanitarian visa will be carefully considered once the UNHCR process has concluded.
I would hope that, once her claim has been assessed, the Australian government will act quickly to get her out of Thailand and to safety".
Giuseppe de Vincentiis, UNHCR's Thailand representative, said in a statement: "It could take several days to process the case and determine next steps".
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Thailand's immigration police chief met Tuesday with officials from the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok, as Saudi Arabia tried to distance itself from accusations that it attempted to block a young woman's effort to flee from her family and seek asylum overseas.
"The father and brother want to go and talk to Rahaf but the United Nations will need to approve such talk", General Surachate told reporters.
A British woman launched an online petition calling on Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to grant al-Qunun asylum and issue her an emergency travel document. "Thailand is a land of smiles".
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.
The Kingdom 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. "She was unhappy having to wear the hijab and being forced to pray", he added.
Speaking to Reuters via text and audio messages she alleged her family had threatened to kill her.
The plan was originally to put the 18-year-old on a plane back to Kuwait on Monday, January 7.
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".
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