‘Aus­tralia still as­sess­ing teen’s re­set­tle­ment push’

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD -

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.

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