Who is Rahaf al-Qunun, why is her life in danger?

Cheryl Sanders
January 13, 2019

It comes after Thailand's immigration police chief met today 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 UNHCR has referred Ms Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement", the Australia Department of Home Affairs told NPR in a statement, referring to the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

The human rights group Amnesty International says it welcomes the decision by a United Nations body to grant refugee status to a young Saudi woman who was stopped in Thailand as she was trying to flee her allegedly abusive family.

Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun is greeted by Thai immigration authorities at a hotel inside Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand January 7, 2019. Surachate said that UNHCR, "will take five days to consider her status" and another five days to arrange for travel.

A representative from the Australian government said that they are monitoring the case "closely", noting that the claims made by Qunun, "that she may be harmed if returned to Saudi Arabia are deeply concerning." .

Lawmakers and activists in Australia and Britain urged their governments to grant asylum to al-Qunun, who was finally allowed by Thailand to enter the country yesterday.

Thailand's immigration police chief says Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun's father and brother arrived together in Bangkok on Tuesday but Alqunun has refused to meet them. Her Twitter account, created on January 6, soared to over 109,000 followers and #SaveRahaf was a trending hashtag.

The embassy and Thai officials earlier said that Alqunun was stopped by Thai authorities because she did not have a return ticket, a hotel reservation or itinerary to show she was a tourist, which appeared to have raised a red flag about the reasons for her trip.

UNHCR staff were interviewing her on Tuesday after meeting her the day before. Local politicians and activists have been calling on the prime minister to provide al-Qunun with emergency travel documents and let her in as soon as possible.

Amnesty International reported that, while barricaded into a hotel room, Alqunun "expressed clear fears for her safety if she returns to her family, and could face criminal charges in Saudi Arabia for disobeying laws on male guardianship". Qunun, a daughter of a senior regional government official, also revealed that Saudi and Kuwaiti officials confiscated her passport upon her arrival. Because in 2017, another Saudi Arabian woman, Dina Ali Lasloom, also tried to flee to Australia.

Saudi Arabia denied ever planning to apprehend al-Qunun and send her home, calling the whole affair a "family matter".

She said: "They will kill me".

By early Sunday afternoon, Mr Robertson had notified the United Nations refugee agency in Thailand and several foreign embassies about the unfolding case, and they began to contact Thai authorities.

Within hours, a campaign sprung up on Twitter dubbed #SaveRahaf.

"The humanity shown to Rahaf must not be a one-off", said Hadid.

She was given her passport back and Thai authorities confirmed she had been granted temporary entry to the country.

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 previous year. The 18-year-old captured the world's attention in a series of Twitter posts that at times read like an global thriller - with very real consequences.

Other reports by iNewsToday