Published: Fri, January 11, 2019
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Canberra to decide Saudi's fate after United Nations refugee ruling

Canberra to decide Saudi's fate after United Nations refugee ruling

Surachate yesterday blamed the airline for allowing al-Qunun to board its flight to Bangkok even though she had insufficient travel documents.

She refused to meet with them.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, who was speaking in Thailand after talks with Thai Government officials, said Australia was engaged in the process of assessing Ms Alqunun's claim for asylum.

But armed with a phone, she barricaded herself into an airside hotel room and fought back - live-tweeting her fears of deportation in a campaign that swiftly galvanised worldwide support and prompted a sharp U-turn by Thai officials.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun was allowed to enter Thailand temporarily under the protection of the United Nations refugee agency on Monday after successfully resisting deportation.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR had referred Qunun's protection request to Australia on Wednesday, though it had not been confirmed before now that Canada was also considering her case.

On Wednesday, the Department of Home Affairs said it would consider Ms Alqunun's "referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals".

"Usually it's really very slow", said Mary Anne Kenny, a veteran legal practitioner and expert in Australian migration at Perth's Murdoch University.

"If she is found to be a refugee, then we will give very, very, very serious consideration to a humanitarian visa", health minister Greg Hunt had said before the United Nations determination was public.

Qunun and her supporters drew global attention to her case through a social media campaign launched mostly on Twitter.

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said Ms Qunun had renounced Islam, which puts her at "serious risk" of prosecution in Saudi Arabia.

Ms al-Qunun's asylum application was fast-tracked, partly because of security concerns after the young woman's father and brother arrived in Bangkok and asked Thai police to see her. "He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes", Surachate said.

A UNHCR representative said "the process is still ongoing".

Payne told reporters that Australia's review of Alqunun's case is already underway. "The Saudi embassy in Manila issued an appalling statement "calling the case a 'family matter" and added without elaborating that she had 'returned with her relatives to the homeland'".

"I miss her, I tried to call her and say 'happy birthday" but she can't access a phone, ' she said. I mean, of course there are good days but they hurt me a lot.

Alqunun arrived in Bangkok from Kuwait late Saturday, but was stopped from proceeding to her planned destination of Australia.

It comes at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen. He is obligated to do everything in his power to advocate, both privately and publicly, and to use the enormous leverage that football has, with the Bahrain government, his own government, he's a Bahrainian national, and also with the Thai government to release Hakeem.

Australia is one of the few countries in the world that will resettle refugees who are already outside their home country, but this is extremely rare. 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.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne speaks to the press at the Australian embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, January 10, 2019.

"So it's surprising that on one hand you have the very quick and welcome action on this case of Rahaf, but on the case of Hakeem it's still stuck based on a Bahrain request to Thailand to send him back to a situation where he would certainly face imprisonment, torture and worse".

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