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#SaveRahaf: Australia to consider Saudi runaway teenager's asylum plea

Qanun has said that she has renounced Islam and is fearful of her father [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 January, 2019

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Australia has said it would consider the asylum claim of an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled alleged abuse from her family, national broadcaster ABC reported on Tuesday.

Australia has said it would consider the asylum claim of an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled alleged abuse from her family, national broadcaster ABC reported on Tuesday.

Australia's Home Affairs Department said it would assess the asylum application of Rahaf al-Qunun if the United Nations found her to be a genuine refugee.

The department also called on the UN refugee agency and Thai authorities to evaluate Qunun's application "as soon as possible".

Qunun arrived at the Thai capital's main airport on a flight from Kuwait over the weekend, after running away from her family, who she says subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

Qunun said she planned to seek asylum in Australia, fearing she would be killed if repatriated by Thai immigration officials who stopped her at the airport.

Her urgent pleas for help over Twitter from an airport hotel room garnered tens of thousands of followers and the attention of the UN refugee agency

Thai officials said on Monday that they would not forcibly deport the teenager and she was then taken into the care of the UNHCR.

Human Rights Watch earlier called on the Australian government to allow Qunun's entry into that country, amid worries about her visa status.

The group's Australian director, Elaine Pearson, said she had seen electronic confirmation of her tourist visa, but that Qunun could no longer access her visa page on Australia's immigration website on Tuesday.

Since Australia has expressed concern in the past about women's rights in Saudi Arabia, it should "come forward and offer protection for this young woman", Pearson said.

Some Saudi female runaways fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years.

Saudi activists say the kingdom, through its embassies abroad, has at times put pressure on border patrol agents in foreign countries to deport the women back to Saudi Arabia.

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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