Thailand grants reprieve for Rahaf Alqunun as family headed for Bangkok

Rahaf al-Qunun: Dad of Saudi refugee arrives in Bangkok Thailand | Daily Star

A Saudi woman who fled her family to avoid forced marriage and refused to leave a Bangkok airport hotel room to avoid deportation was granted refugee status on Wednesday by the United Nations, her friends and supporters said, clearing the way for an asylum request.

This handout picture taken and released by the Thai Immigration Bureau shows Qunun (right) being escorted by a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) official at Suvarnabhumi global airport in Bangkok.

Ms Alqunun is now in the care of United Nations officials who say it will take about five days to process her request for assistance after she said she feared her family would kill her if she were sent home.

Australia said it would consider an application for protection, although media reported that Ms Alqunun's visa for onward travel to the country had been cancelled - although there was no official confirmation.

To avoid this, al-Qunun barricaded herself into a hotel room in Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport, and started tweeting about her situation .

It said it would "consider this referral in the usual way" as it does with all UNHCR referrals.

"The government has made representations to the Thai government and the Bangkok office of the UNHCR about its serious concerns on this matter and the need for Ms Alqunun's claim to be assessed expeditiously".

On the same day, she refused to meet with her father and brother who traveled to Thailand.

But Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun's father and brother would have to wait and see whether the United Nations refugee agency would allow them to see her, immigration chief Surachate Hakpan said.

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.

Ms al-Qunun wrote of being in "real danger" if she was forced to return to her family. "He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes", General Surachate said.

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"Rahaf's story sends an important message: people around the world rallied to support her plea for protection, and people power prevailed over those who tried to oppress her. Rahaf took incredible risks to flee her family home and break Saudi Arabia's male guardianship rules".

"They will kill me because I fled and because I announced my atheism", she said.

In 2017, a young Saudi woman Dina Ali Lasloom was forcibly returned to her homeland after she was detained at Manila airport in the Philippines, and has since reportedly disappeared.

But, he added, "nobody wants to see a young girl in distress and she has obviously now found a safe haven in Thailand".

On Tuesday she began the process of seeking asylum in a third country through the UN.

"She does not wish to go back and we will not force her".

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.

Lawmakers and activists in Australia and Britain have urged their governments to grant asylum to Qunun.

Noura, one of four friends tweeting from Ms Mohammed al-Qunun's account, told the BBC they knew each other from an online group for Saudi feminists, and that she herself had "escaped" Saudi Arabia because she is "an ex-Muslim".

"It would have been better if they confiscated her cell phone instead of her passport because Twitter changed everything".

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