Saudi teen given refugee status, Australia considering visa for her

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun

Alqunun was stopped at the Thai airport by Saudi officials, who confiscated her passport and booked her on a flight back to Saudi Arabia. "She fled hardship. Thailand is a land of smiles". She says Thailand's authorities attempted to block her from travelling to Australia to claim asylum.

"AlAraibi was granted permanent residency by the Australian government in recognition of his status as a refugee", Payne said in a statement, saying that she would seek his safe return to Australia.

"We will not send anyone to die".

Her fate on arriving back in Saudi Arabia remains unknown. After a tense standoff in the airport hotel, where Ms Alqunun barricaded herself in her room, Thai authorities allowed UNHCR representatives to meet her.

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

On Sunday Qunun told AFP her family was "abusive" and once locked her in a room for six months just for cutting her hair.

Health Minister Greg Hunt told ABC TV today the Australian government has been "successful" in getting the UNHCR to agree to process the teen's case quickly.

The case has drawn fresh global attention to Saudi's guardianship system, whereby women must have permission from a male relative to work, marry, and travel.

She said she had asserted her independence, but had been forced to pray and wear a hijab and alleged she had been beaten by her brother.

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Thailand is not a signatory to a United Nations convention on refugees.

She says her passport has now been returned to her, after it was reportedly seized by a Saudi diplomat when she flew into Thailand.

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees at its Geneva headquarters, Babar Baloch, said it could take several days for the agency to look into Alqunun's claims. "My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things".

Saudi Arabia described the case as a "family affair", adding that the country did not demand her deportation back home. 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.

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

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.

"Thailand is concerned about their diplomatic relations, their political relations, their economic relations, and their military relations with certain countries,"says Emily Arnold-Fernández, executive director of Asylum Access". Several female Saudis fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum overseas in recent years and returned home. In the meantime, her al-Qunun has asked that the media and public continue to pressure officials to follow-through on securing her asylum. "It was due to Saudi intervention that she has not made it".

The latest incident comes against the backdrop of intense scrutiny on Saudi Arabia over the shocking murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi previous year, which has renewed criticism of the kingdom's rights record.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had styled himself as a reformer, with women recently granted the right to drive, but these cases raise questions over how the regime exercises control.

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