World News

Saudi Teen Asylum Seeker Spotlights 'Strangling' Male Guardianship

Saudi Teen Asylum Seeker Spotlights 'Strangling' Male Guardianship

The organisation'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 canceled.

The Australian government said it was monitoring the case closely. Because in 2017, another Saudi Arabian woman, Dina Ali Lasloom, also tried to flee to Australia.

The UN's refugee agency said on Tuesday it was investigating the case of the teenager.

Saudi Arabia described the case as a "family affair", adding that the country did not demand her deportation back home. The 18-year-old was stopped by officials in Thailand who confiscated her passport.

The Department of Home Affairs confirmed in a statement that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had referred 18-year-old Alqunun to Australia for consideration for refugee settlement.

Her father is now in Bangkok and asking to speak with Qunun, Thai authorities said. "The Saudi charge d'affaires said he is satisfied and expressed confidence on the work of Thai immigration, of the Thai government, and of the Foreign Ministry yesterday". "We are both concerned for Miss Rahaf's safety and well-being", said Surachate.

Rahaf al-Qunun has said she fears her family will kill her if she was forced to return home.

"If my family come, they will kill me", she said in a video archived on Twitter.

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

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Qunun has refused to meet her father and brother who flew to Bangkok this week, Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said.

Saudi Arabia enforces male guardianship laws, which require that women, regardless of age, have the consent of a male relative - usually a father or husband - to travel, obtain a passport or marry. In a video clip of the meeting released by Thai immigration police, Alsheaiby is heard telling Thai officials: "From the moment she arrived, she opened a new account and her followers reached nearly 45,000 in a day. and I would have preferred it better if her phone was taken instead of her passport". Saudi officials have denied any involvement in her case.

On Sunday Qunun told AFP her family was "abusive" and once locked her in a room for six months just for cutting her hair. This is in no small part because Thailand offers visa-free entry to dozens of passports, making it an accessible first port of call for people who need an urgent escape from their homeland, refugee advocates told TIME.

Qunun has since tweeted that she felt safe "under UNHCR protection with the agreement of Thailand authorities." .

The representative in Australia of Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, said it was encouraging that Alqunun was able to highlight her situation using social media, and she hoped more Saudi women might act similarly.

"It has been reported that Rahaf had a Visa to go to Australia, and meant to apply for asylum".

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the activist said there had been instances where Saudi women runaways were stopped by authorities in Hong Kong or the Philippines en route to Australia or New Zealand.

Women trying to escape abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum overseas in recent years and returned home. "I'm shouting out for help of humanity", she tweeted.

In October, the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey further heightened tensions and put worldwide scrutiny on the country's human rights record.


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