‘Australia still assessing teen’s resettlement push’
AUSTRALIA’S foreign minister on Thursday declined to say how long it will take to consider a UN request to resettle a young Saudi woman who fled her family, as the 18-year-old’s plight sparked a topless protest in Sydney and debate among Saudis over their country’s restrictive “guardianship” laws.
Rahaf Mohammed a l - Qunun’s attempt to flee the ultra-conservative kingdom has become a cause celebre for rights groups since the 18-yearold landed in Bangkok from Kuwait last weekend.
Thai authorities threatened to deport her but with the help of activ ists, diplomats and a hastily opened Twitter account Qunun launched an impassioned asylum campaign.
As global interest surged – and her Twitter followers snowballed into the tens of thousands – the Thais backed down from deportation, handing her into the care of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Bangkok, which urged Australia to offer resettlement.
Foreig n Minister Mar ise Payne, on a scheduled visit to Ba ng kok to meet her Tha i cou nter pa r t, told repor ters Australia was “engaged in the steps of the assessment process of Miss A l-Qunu n a s required”.
She said there was “no possibi l it y ” t hat Qunun would return to Austra lia wit h her on Thursday and would not speculate on a timeframe if she is granted ref uge status.
Qunun alleges abuse by her fa mily, while r ig hts g roups also said she had renounced Islam, risking prosecution in conservative Saudi Arabia.
Her father, who denies mistreating her, will remain in Bangkok “until he knows which country she is going to”, Thailand’s immigration police chief told reporters on Thursday.
The Saudi embassy in Bangkok has said it did not demand the teenager’s deportation and the case was a family affair.
No sanctuary in Thailand
In a statement ahead of her trip, Payne said she would lobby for the return to Australia of former Bahraini national footballer Hakeem Alaraibi, who was granted refugee status there after fleeing a crackdown during the Arab Spring.
Payne reiterated Australia’s call for Thailand not to send Alaraibi back to Bahrain.
Qunun’s case has revived interest in the plight of the footballer, who has been held in Bangkok detention.
The Saudi weighed in on Alaraibi’s case on her widely followed Twitter account.
“I’m with you #Hakeem,” she tweeted on Thursday.
Thailand, which is not a signatory to the UN code on protecting the rights of refugees, has repeatedly faced criticism for detaining or sending back people with asylum claims to repressive regimes.
On Thursday, the Secret Sisterhood – a protest group advo- cating for Qunun to be granted a humanitarian visa to Australia – held a topless demonstration at Sydney’s bustling Martin Place.
Four women clothed only in jeans and shoes held up signs saying “Let Her In” and calling Qunun a “Sisterhood Hero”.
In Saudi A rabia, Qunun’s asylum plea sparked rare criticism – including from men – of t he count r y’s rest r ict ive “guardianship” laws.
Qunun had said that f leeing her fa mily t hrows her i nto conf lict wit h t he Saudi system, which allows male family members to make decisions for fema le relat ives, a nd i f returned, she is “100 per cent” sure she would be killed by her family.