Thai police: Canada, Australia willing to accept Saudi woman

Pauline Gross
January 12, 2019

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, a Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her country and family, is seen in Bangkok, Thailand, Jan. 7, 2019 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. No other details were immediately offered.

Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun is now staying in a Bangkok hotel under the care of the United Nation's refugee agency (UNHCR), which has been processing her application for refugee status ahead of possible resettlement in Australia.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who is 18, arrived in Thailand on Saturday, but was initially denied entry.

After grabbing worldwide attention with dramatic posts on social media in which she said she feared for her safety if made to return home to her family, Alqunun eventually was placed in the care of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees as her bid for refugee status was considered.

Her case has drawn attention to Saudi Arabia's strict societal rules, including one that obliges women to have the permission of a male guardian to travel.

Several Saudi women fleeing abuse by their families have tried to seek asylum overseas in recent years but have been sent back home.

"Canada is very concerned by and watching closely the situation of Ms Rahaf al-Qunun", spokesman Stefano Maron told MEE.

Giving her asylum could further upset Saudi-Canada relations.

'Rahaf received death threats and for this reason she closed her Twitter account, please save Rahaf life, ' @nourahfa313 wrote.

She was then allowed to enter Thailand and processed as a refugee. She later told reporters that Australia assessing Alqunun's request for resettlement, but there was no specific timeframe.

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

The decision is likely to exacerbate Canada's already poor relations with Saudi Arabia, which a year ago barred the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh after Ottawa criticized Saudi authorities for detaining women's' activists.

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.

She thanked everyone for helping her, he said, and added that the first thing she would do upon arrival in Canada would be to start learning the language.

Saudi Arabia's human rights record has come under heavy scrutiny since the brutal murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi previous year at its consulate in Turkey.

Canberra has insisted it will treat the case of 18-year-old al-Qunun "in the usual way, as it does with all" refugee cases referred by the UN. Among those arrested was Samar Badawi, whose family members fled to Canada in 2015 and have since become Canadian citizens.

Ms. Payne held talks with Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prajin Juntong, who is also justice minister, and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.

He was arrested while vacationing in Thailand in November due to an Interpol notice in which Bahrain sought his custody after he was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalizing a police station - a charge he denies.

But she said she would lobby for the return of former Bahraini national footballer Hakeem Alaraibi, who was granted refugee status in Australia after fleeing a crackdown during the Arab Spring.

Other reports by GizPress

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