Saudi teen Rahaf Alqunun who fled ‘abusive’ family given UN refugee status
A Saudi teenager who fled from her “abusive” family has been declared a legitimate refugee by the United Nations, the Australian government has said.
Rahaf Alqunun, who fears being killed by her relatives if she returns to Saudi Arabia, is currently in Thailand where UN refugee authorities have been processing her request for asylum.
Australia’s department of home affairs said on Wednesday the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had referred her case to officials in Canberra who were considering granting the 18-year-old refugee resettlement.
It said it would “consider this referral in the usual way” as it does with all UNHCR referrals.
It comes after the teenager’s father and brother arrived in Bangkok with the intention of seeing her – but Thai police say she is refusing to meet them.
Ms Alqunun was detained by Thai authorities at Bangkok airport when she arrived for a connecting flight to Australia and threatened with repatriation after she fled on a family holiday to Kuwait.
She barricaded herself in a hotel room at the airport and broadcast videos of her plight on Twitter, saying she had been met by Saudi representatives and her passport seized when she arrived in Bangkok.
“I had been threatened to be killed before and they aren’t afraid to threaten me in public,” the teenager tweeted, later pleading for assistance by the UN, and to countries including Australia, Canada and the UK to offer her sanctuary.
Her posts attracted global attention including rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and the UN’s refugee agency who have both urged Australia to allow entry to Ms Alqunun, who says she is fleeing physical and psychological abuse in her home country.
Thai immigration officials and Saudi diplomats met at the kingdom’s Bangkok embassy on Tuesday.
In a video of the meeting, Saudi charge d’affaires Abdalelah Mohammed Alshuaibi could be heard telling Thai officials through a translator: “She opened a Twitter account and her followers grew to 45,000 within one day.
“It would have been better if they confiscated her cell phone instead of her passport because Twitter changed everything.”
Ms Alqunun later tweeted the video and wrote that her “Twitter account has changed the game against what he wished for me”.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch, said the move by Ms Alqunun’s father was concerning.
“We have no idea what he is going to do,” he said. “Whether he will try to find out where she is and go harass her. We don’t know whether he is going to try to get the embassy to do that.”
The Saudi government has denied claims it sent officials to bring Ms Alqunun back to the kingdom.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not asked for her extradition,” the country’s embassy said in a tweet. “The embassy considers this issue a family matter.”