Thai, Saudi officials meet over case of young Saudi woman seeking asylum

Thai, Saudi officials meet over case of young Saudi woman seeking asylum

The father of an 18-year-old Saudi woman asylum seeker who fled to Thailand saying she feared her family would kill her, has arrived in Bangkok and wants to meet his daughter, Thailand's immigration chief said on Tuesday.

"The Australian government is pleased that Ms Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun is having her claim for protection assessed by the UNHCR", a spokesperson for Australia's Department of Home Affairs told NPR on Tuesday.

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

But she was stopped en route by authorities in Thailand at the request of the Saudi government, which demanded the woman return to her family.

This handout picture taken and released by Thai Immigration Bureau on January 7, 2019 shows 18-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qanun, middle, being escorted by the Thai immigration officer and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees officials at the Suvarnabhumi global airport in Bangkok.

Later she sent me a two-word appeal on a Twitter direct message, saying "Hi Help!" However, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director with Human Rights Watch, revealed that Canada "really worked very hard" to "persuade" Thailand not to expel her.

In her pleas online, the young woman specifically asked for asylum in the USA, the UK, Canada and Australia.

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun's father and brother have arrived in Thailand but she is refusing to see them.

The Australian government said it was monitoring the case closely.

Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun in Bangkok.

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Giuseppe de Vincentiis, UNHCR's Thailand representative, said in a statement: "It could take several days to process the case and determine next steps".

Alharbi mentioned the case of Dina Ali Lasloom, a 24-year-old Saudi woman who in April 2017 was returned to Saudi Arabia from the Philippines against her will and whose fate is unclear.

"The father and brother want to go and talk to Rahaf but the United Nations will need to approve such talk", immigration chief Surachate Hakpan told reporters.

Friends of Saudi woman Ms Alqunun claim she was nearly forced onto a flight from Thailand back to Kuwait despite seeking asylum in Australia. The UNHCR is now evaluating her asylum claim, which is expected to take up to a week. "We will not send anyone to die".

The Kingdom has some of the world's toughest restrictions on women, including a guardianship system that allows male family members to make decisions on behalf of female relatives.

A Change.org petition to grant Qunun asylum in Britain has so far garnered more than 80,000 signatures.

Ms Alqunun ran away from a family trip to Kuwait last week and flew to Thailand in the hope of reaching Australia to seek asylum.

Thai immigration chief Surachet Hakparn, speaking to journalists outside the Saudi Embassy after meeting with Saudi officials in Bangkok on Tuesday, said officials are concerned about Qunun's safety and well-being.

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". She was forced to return to Saudi Arabia and was not publicly heard from again, according to activists tracking her whereabouts.

Saudi Arabia's human rights record has been under heavy scrutiny since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi late past year.

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