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#SaveRahaf: Saudi teenage asylum-seeker 'under UN protection' in Thailand

The 18-year-old said she had planned to seek asylum in Australia [AP]

Date of publication: 7 January, 2019

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The UN has said that a Saudi teenager is under its care after she was stopped in Bangkok as she tried to flee her family to seek asylum in Australia.

The United Nations' refugee agency has said that a 18-year-old Saudi runaway is under its care after she was stopped in Bangkok when she tried to flee her family to seek asylum in Australia.

The UNHCR said in statement on Monday that officials met Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun after Thai authorities granted them access.

Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn confirmed to reporters that the meeting between UN officials and Qunun took place.

"She is under the care of the UNHCR now but we also sent Thai security to help take care (of her)," Hakparn said.

"Thailand is a land of smiles. We will not send anyone to die," he said. "We will take care of her as best as we can."

The agency "will take five days to consider her status" and another five days to arrange for travel, Surachate said, adding that he would meet with Saudi diplomats on Tuesday to explain Thailand's decision.

Following the announcement, a relieved Qunun tweeted that she felt safe "under UNHCR protection with the agreement of Thailand authorities", adding that her passport had been returned to her after being taken away on Sunday.

Qunun says she ran away from her family while travelling in Kuwait because they subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

The 18-year-old said she had planned to seek asylum in Australia and feared she would be killed if repatriated by Thai immigration officials who stopped her during transit on Sunday.

Immigration police released photos of Qunun after she left the hotel room where she had been holed up.

Where she would stay in the Thai capital was not announced.

Qunun had stayed in the room while sending out desperate pleas for help over social media. She began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived in Bangkok on a flight from Kuwait.

The incident comes against the backdrop of intense scrutiny of Saudi Arabia over its investigation and handling of the shocking murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, which has renewed criticism of the kingdom's rights record.

The ultra-conservative Saudi kingdom has long been criticised for imposing some of the world's toughest restrictions on women.

That includes a guardianship system that allows men to exercise arbitrary authority to make decisions on behalf of their female relatives.

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