Australia considering resettlement for runaway Saudi woman
AUSTRALIA will assess runaway Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun for settlement after the United Nations on Wednesday deemed her a refugee.
The Department of Home Affairs confirmed in a statement that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had referred 18-year-old Alqunun to Australia for consideration for refugee settlement.
Alqunun arrived in Bangkok on a flight from Kuwait on Saturday, and planned to continue to Australia, for which she held a tourist visa. But after being detained by Thai authorities, she refused to board a flight back to Kuwait, barricading herself in a hotel room.
After publicizing her case via social media, saying she feared for her safety if made to return home to her family, she was placed in the care of UNHCR workers as her bid for refugee status was considered, leading to her referral to Australia on Wednesday afternoon.
“The UNHCR has referred Ms Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement,” Australia’s Home Affairs Department said, adding it would “consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals.”
Indications from Canberra suggest Alqunun may receive a sympathetic hearing.
Before the UNHCR’s referral, Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia would consider giving Alqunun a humanitarian visa if the UNHCR process found her to be a refugee.
“Pending the outcome of that, if she is found to be a refugee, then we will give very, very, very serious consideration to a humanitarian visa,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Alqunun’s case has again highlighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. Several female Saudi runaways fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home. Human rights activists say many more similar cases will have gone unreported.
In Bangkok, Thailand’s immigration police chief Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn said that Alqunun’s father and brother arrived together in Bangkok on Tuesday but Alqunun refused to meet them.
Surachate discussed her case on Tuesday with Saudi Charge d’Affaires in Thailand Abdalelah Mohammed A. Alsheaiby. In a video clip of the meeting released by Thai immigration police, Alsheaiby is heard telling Thai officials: “From the moment she arrived, she opened a new account and her followers reached almost 45,000 in a day . And I would have preferred it better if her phone was taken instead of her passport.” –