Australia considering resettlement for runaway Saudi woman

18-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al Qanun being escorted by a Thai immigration officer and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees officials at Suvarnabhumi international airport in Bangkok

18-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al Qanun being escorted by a Thai immigration officer and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees officials at Suvarnabhumi international airport in Bangkok

Australian officials said that they would consider issuing Al-qunun a humanitarian visa if the UNHCR gave her refugee status.

A government source told The Australian Ms Alqunun would be refused entry to Australia on a tourist visa because it's not her real reason for entering the country.

In an interview with Saudi-owned TV channel Khalijia, the embassy official said that the woman's father contacted the diplomatic mission for "help" bringing her back.

The UN's High Commissioner for Refugees granted her official refugee status on Wednesday, according to the Guardian and BBC.

"The embassy does not have the authority to stop her at the airport or anywhere else", the Saudi embassy said in a statement.

Hakeem al-Araiby, a Bahraini refugee and torture survivor who was living in Australia, has been detained by Thailand for weeks as he awaits an extradition hearing.

"They threaten to kill me and prevent me from continuing my education", she said.

Australia's Department of Home Affairs said Wednesday that the United Nations had referred Al-qunun's case to their country for refugee settlement. It declined to comment further.

"She is now under the sovereignty of Thailand; no-one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere", he said.

"The claims made by Ms Al-Qunun that she may be harmed if returned to Saudi Arabia are deeply concerning", a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said.

Ms Alqunun later tweeted the video and wrote that her "Twitter account has changed the game against what he wished for me".

Since Australia has expressed concern in the past about women's rights in Saudi Arabia, it should "come forward and offer protection for this young woman", Pearson said.

According to the global law's principle of non-refoulement, asylum seekers can not be returned to their country of origin if their life is under threat.

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.

"The Australian government is pleased that Ms Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun is having her claim for protection assessed by the UNHCR", a spokesperson told nine.com.au last night.

Thailand is not a signatory to a United Nations convention on refugees, and asylum seekers are typically deported or wait years to be resettled in third countries. Whilst on holiday in Kuwait, she fled "domestic abuse" from her family and tried to reach Australia to claim asylum. Though she had a valid three-month tourist visa, upon her arrival to Thailand, a Saudi diplomat seized her passport.

A Saudi activist familiar with other cases of women who have run away said they were often young and unprepared for the risks involved in seeking asylum.

When someone makes very serious allegations of abuse, torture or a threat to their life, authorities have to take it at face value and allow the proper protocols of investigation to occur, Ms Stirling said. Several female Saudis fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum overseas in recent years and returned home.

"Everybody was watching. When social media works, this is what happens", Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.

It comes at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.

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