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Australia will consider asylum bid of Saudi woman who fled to Thailand

Australia will consider asylum bid of Saudi woman who fled to Thailand

The Australian government said on Tuesday that it will "carefully consider" the asylum claim by Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, who fled alleged abuse from her family and is now in the care of the United Nations humanitarian agency in Bangkok after she fended off deportation in a gripping, live-tweeted ordeal.

A student at the University of Ha'il, Saudi Arabia, al-Qunun fled her family during a holiday trip to Kuwait.

In a statement, the Department of Home Affairs says it will consider the referral from the United Nations in the usual way.

She is staying in a Bangkok hotel while the UNHCR processes her application for refugee status, before she can seek asylum in a third country.

The woman, whose predicament went viral via her Twitter account, told Human Rights Watch that she had arrived at Bangkok's main airport on January 5 from Kuwait, and that her passport was seized, preventing her from traveling to Australia.

Qunun barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room, refusing to leave and posting determined calls for asylum on social media to draw attention to her plight.

According to Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch, who has been in close contact with Rahaf, she was fleeing physical abuse by her male relatives, in particular by her father and her brother.

"She is going to be found as a refugee because she has made very clear that she has renounced Islam ..."

The organization's Australian director, Elaine Pearson, said she had seen electronic confirmation of her tourist visa, but that Alqunun could no longer access her visa page on Australia's immigration website on Tuesday, sparking concern that the document had been cancelled.

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun's case echoes that of another Saudi woman who was in transit to Australia in April 2017.

Riyadh denied that it had ever planned on apprehending al-Qunun and bringing her back, calling the case a "family matter".

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The decision marks a significant victory for the 18-year-old, who is now in Bangkok where she says Thai authorities attempted to block her from travelling to Australia to claim asylum.

Even though Thailand has at least 100,000 refugees within its borders, the country is not a signatory to the UNHRC and has no legal protection to those who seek asylum.

Saudi activists say the kingdom, through its embassies overseas, has at times put pressure on border patrol agents in foreign countries to deport the women back to Saudi Arabia.

"Only she can make that choice, she's an adult woman who can make her own decisions", Robertson wrote. "Thailand is a land of smiles".

Saudi activists say the kingdom, through its embassies overseas, has at times put pressure on border patrol agents in foreign countries to deport the women back to Saudi Arabia.

A Change.org petition to grant Qunun asylum in Britain has so far garnered more than 80,000 signatures. "She was unhappy having to wear the hijab and being forced to pray", he added.

She used a Canadian tourist's phone to send a message, a video of which was posted to Twitter, saying her family would kill her.

The UNHCR has now assessed her case and found she is a refugee.

Qunun was stopped in Bangkok as she was trying to reach Australia to seek asylum after escaping from her family during a holiday in Kuwait.

He said the Thai government "needs to explain why diplomats from Saudi Arabia are allowed to walk in closed areas of the Bangkok airport, seizing one of their citizen's passports".

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 a year ago.