World

Saudi teen runaway in Bangkok is 'legitimate refugee'

Saudi teen runaway in Bangkok is 'legitimate refugee'

Thailand initially said it would deport her at the request of Saudi embassy officials, barring her from travelling on to Australia where Ms Qunun said she had meant to claim asylum.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun's attempt to flee the ultra-conservative kingdom has been embraced by rights groups as a beacon of defiance against repression.

"We have deleted the tweet about our earlier discussion on Rahaf al-Qunun", the organization said.

But al-Qunun's savvy use of Twitter throughout her ordeal at Bangkok airport, including tweeting videos of her barricading herself in a hotel room, galvanised a global campaign and calls for her to be granted asylum.

En route to Australia, she barricaded herself in a Thailand hotel room to avoid being deported. Human rights activists say many more similar cases will have gone unreported.

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne talks to members of the press during a press conference at the Australian Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, 10 January 2019.

After grabbing worldwide attention with her social media posts, authorities eventually allowed her to enter the country.

The quick actions over the past week of the Government of Thailand in providing temporary refuge and facilitating refugee status determination by UNHCR, and of the Government of Canada in offering emergency resettlement to Ms.al-Qunun and arranging her travel were key to the successful resolution of this case. In downtown Sydney on Thursday, four women dressed in jeans and calling themselves the Secret Sisterhood held a topless protest outside the building housing the Saudi Consulate, calling on Australia to grant Alqunun residency.




However, Canadian authorities said they could not confirm that Qunun had been granted asylum in Canada. She had said in her online postings that she was afraid of such an encounter.

Reuters cited the Thai immigration chief as the source who said Alqunun was going to Canada - which has been in a simmering months-long diplonatic spat with Saudi Arabia.

Thai immigration officials told Reuters that Canada had "granted her asylum", however Canadian officials told the BBC they now have "nothing to confirm" on the issue. It said her case had inspired millions and should remind people of the bravery and sacrifices of people who flee their native lands for safety.

Despite having harnessed the power of Twitter to stave off deportation on Friday, she abruptly suspended her account, with friends saying she had received death threats.

Experts agree the media focus on al-Qunun's case has put pressure on officials in Thailand - which usually have little sympathy for asylum seekers - to act quickly.

"Rahaf temporarily suspended her #Twitter account because she has been receiving some very nasty, very real death threats".

Immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said al-Qunun's father and brother, who have arrived in Thailand, could not object to the United Nations process as she has already been granted refugee status.

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson commended Thailand in their decision not to send al-Qunun back to Saudi Arabia.


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