Australia says no timeframe to decide Saudi teen Rahafs case

Blanche Robertson
January 11, 2019

The Tweet read, '18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun fled Saudi Arabia as she said her family would kill her for choosing to leave Islam - do you respect her decision?'

"The [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] has made a request of Canada that we accept Ms.al-Qunun as a refugee and we have accepted the UN's request that we grant her asylum", he told reporters.

"Labor has been supportive of the government's moves to consider humanitarian settlement in Australia given she has been found to be owed protection", Wong said.

'I have no choice to choose what I want, ' she said.

Ms Qunun's desperate tweets ricocheted across social media with the #SaveRahaf hashtag drawing an outpouring of support but also the bile of some hardliners in her native country.

Under the kingdom's strict guardianship laws, adult women must obtain permission from a male guardian to travel overseas, marry or be released from prison.

The Australian government said it was considering Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun for refugee resettlement, in a case that has advanced rapidly since the weekend when the 18-year-old barricaded herself in an airport hotel in Thailand and publicized her case on social media.

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

A spokesman for Canada's foreign minister said he could not confirm she was coming to Canada.

Qunun has accused her family of abuse, and has refused to meet her father and brother who arrived in Bangkok to try take her back to Saudi Arabia.

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She barricaded herself in a hotel room at Bangkok airport after being stopped by officials and expressed fear that she would be killed if she was forced to return. She later told reporters that Australia assessing Alqunun's request for resettlement, but there was no specific timeframe.

"Yes, Australian has granted her asylum, but we are waiting to hear where exactly she is going", a Thai immigration police officer told CNN.

She was then allowed to enter Thailand and processed as a refugee.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun is a genuine refugee - unlike the multitudes of economic migrants that flooded Europe.

"Refugee protection today is often under threat and can not always be assured, but in this instance global refugee law and overriding values of humanity have prevailed", UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement. The Canadian ambassador to Saudi was sent home, and relations have worsened since.

Alqunun had previously said on Twitter that she wished to seek refuge in Australia.

On Friday, Qunun's twitter account appeared to have been deleted.

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne talks to members of the press during a press conference at the Australian Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, 10 January 2019.

"I understand that there have been death threats against her but I don't know the details", said Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch, adding even threats from online trolls need to be taken seriously.

"Another young Saudi girl - another genuine refugee - was dragged back from an airport to Saudi Arabia to a presumably frightful fate while trying to escape the country in 2017".

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