Australian minister hints Saudi teen likely to get asylum

Teen Locks Herself in Room After Fleeing Allegedly Abusive Family

Teen Locks Herself in Room After Fleeing Allegedly Abusive Family

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 tried to block a young woman's effort to flee her family and seek asylum overseas.

Human Rights Watch earlier called on the Australian government to allow Alqunun's entry into that country, amid worries about her visa status.

The authorities have revealed that Rahaf's application is now being assessed by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) who will make the decision on her asylum status.

The 18-year-old Saudi national said she had "left her religion" and begged for shelter from either Canada, the US, Australia or the United Kingdom in a series of frantic twitter posts.

But when she arrived in Bangkok she said a Saudi diplomat met her at the airport and tricked her into handing over her passport and ticket, saying he would secure a visa.

He was speaking after meeting Abdalelah Mohammed Alsheaiby, charge d'affaires at Saudi Arabia's embassy in Bangkok, while discussing Thailand's stance on al-Qunun's much-publicised case.

A young Saudi woman is asking for Canada's help after tweets about her efforts to flee abuse and seek asylum overseas put her in the global spotlight.

Activists are concerned about what Saudi Arabia will do after Thai authorities reversed a decision to expel her and allowed Qunun to enter the country under the care of the UNHCR.

Australia today vowed to consider an 18-year-old Saudi woman's plea for asylum, further easing fears she could be forcibly returned home.

"We would have hoped that you'd have confiscated her cell phone - it would have been preferable to taking her passport", Sheaibi said, eliciting timid laughter from the translator.

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But a government source told The Australian the visa had not been revoked.

The first message from Ms Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, in Arabic, was posted at 3.20am Thai time from the transit area of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport.

"Her time in Thailand is uncertain and while it's positive that she has access to UNHCR and her case is being reviewed, we know that the Thai authorities have kept other individuals and those who've sought asylum in reprimand, in detention, waiting for long periods of time to be granted asylum", she said.

The deportation of the 18-year-old has been averted and she is now "under UNHCR [United Nations Refugee Convention] protection with the agreement of Thailand authorities".

In a separate interview with Reuters, Robertson revealed that the teen's father and brother have arrived in Bangkok and are demanding to meet her.

The spokesperson said the government had "serious concerns on this matter and the need for Ms Al-Qunun's claim to be assessed expeditiously". People who convert to another religion from Islam risk being charged with apostasy - or abandoning their religious beliefs, which is legally punishable by death.

In a statement posted on social media, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said that the Thai government and UNHCR should deny the request of Alqunun's father and brother to meet her. She was reportedly taken to a detention center in the Saudi capital and little more regarding her location or condition is known. "This should be the standard for any individual who claims that his or her life is in danger".

He said both countries were treating the issue as a private family matter and looking for a solution together, adding the UNHCR's processes would take five days.

Saudi Arabia's strict social rules requirem women to have the permission of a male "guardian" to travel.

Another Saudi woman, Dina Ali Lasloom, was in April 2017 returned to Saudi Arabia from the Philippines - also against her will as she faced a forced marriage, according to a report by HRW.

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