UNHCR finds Australia-bound Saudi teen to be refugee

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An 18-year-old girl who locked herself in a Thai hotel room to keep from being sent back to her allegedly abusive family has been allowed to stay in the country to meet with United Nations refugee officials.

"The UNHCR has referred Ms Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement", Australia's Department of Home Affairs said in an emailed statement.

"Canada is very concerned by and watching closely the situation of Ms. Rahaf al-Qunun", said Stefano Maron, a spokesman for Global Affairs Canada.

"We will take her into Bangkok and provide her with safe shelter under the care of the UNHCR", Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters on Monday after United Nations officials escorted her out of the hotel.

Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun (front left) is seen with Thai immigration authorities at a hotel inside Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok January 7, 2019.

Later she sent me a two-word appeal on a Twitter direct message, saying "Hi Help!"

"The father is now here in Thailand and that's a source of concern", Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch's deputy director for Asia, told Reuters.

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"She does not wish to go back and we will not force her".

Ms Alqunun's father and brother arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday evening and have asked to see her.

Riyadh denied that it had ever planned on apprehending al-Qunun and bringing her back, calling the case a "family matter".

The young woman has said she was fleeing from Saudi Arabia to Australia but was stopped en route by Thai and Saudi officials.

Thailand is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and provides no legal protection to asylum seekers, although there are more than 100,000 refugees in the country.

In 2017, a young Saudi woman Dina Ali Lasloom was forcibly returned to her homeland after she was detained at Manila airport in the Philippines, and has since reportedly disappeared.

"If she goes home it will be unsafe for her so Thailand is ready to help", General Surachate Hakparn, the head of Thailand's immigration police, told the media. "We will not send anyone to die".

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Saudi Arabia's strict social rules requirem women to have the permission of a male "guardian" to travel.

A Change.org petition to grant Qunun asylum in Britain has so far garnered more than 80,000 signatures. And if all else failed and she was forced on the Kuwait Airways jet, an activist in India was ready with a "bomb scare" tweet to stop the flight from leaving.

"I am giving my family 48 hours (to) either stop or I will publish everything that will incriminate them", she threatened on Twitter.

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.

"It is very incredible that the Australian government have offered her an asylum, given that the Australian government is not well known for its well treatment of refugees", said McNeil, who spent hours with Alqunun in her hotel room at the airport in Bangkok. It said the embassy is not communicating with the teenager, but is communicating with Thai authorities.

A number of female activists who fought for the right to drive have been arrested and disappeared and the country has been condemned across the world over the gruesome murder late previous year of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its consulate in Turkey.

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