#SaveRahaf: Activists' lightning campaign made Saudi teen's flight a global cause


In 2017, a Saudi woman who sought asylum in Australia, and said she feared violence from any relatives who came to bring her back home, was stopped on a layover in the Philippines and returned to Riyadh.

This handout picture taken and released by the Thai Immigration Bureau shows Qunun (right) being escorted by a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) official at Suvarnabhumi worldwide airport in Bangkok.

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.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun ran away from her family during a trip to Kuwait and is now hoping she can flee to Australia.

She was held in an air side hotel room while Thai officials said they would put her on the next flight back.

"Any application by Ms al-Qunun for a humanitarian visa will be carefully considered once the UNHCR process has concluded", a Department of Home Affairs official told AFP news agency.

It noted that Hakeem al-Araibi, a refugee and "torture survivor" from Bahrain granted residence in Australia, has been detained by Thailand since November awaiting a hearing on a Bahraini extradition request.

The Saudi embassy in Bangkok has not publicly commented on Ms al-Qunun's case since it initially claimed on Monday that she had tried to enter Thailand without the right papers, a charge which she denied. With the help of friends in Australia, Sweden and Canada - who tweeted on her behalf while she slept - her newly formed Twitter account served as a nonstop plea to Western countries to grant her asylum.

Thailand's immigration police chief Lieutenant General Surachate Hakparn told media on Wednesday Ms Alqunun's father and brother arrived together in Bangkok on Tuesday but Ms Alqunun refused to meet them. The father said he wants his daughter back but respects her decision.

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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.

She says her passport has now been returned to her, after it was reportedly seized by a Saudi diplomat when she flew into Thailand.

Saudi teenager Rahaf Alqunun's first reaction to the news Australia might resettle her was disbelief, then emojis.

Her fate on arriving back in Saudi Arabia remains unknown.

Marise Payne, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement today that she would visit Thailand on Thursday, during which time she would also advocate for the release of footballer Hakeem Alaraibi, who's been detained in Thailand since late November.

She had spent almost 48 hours stranded at Bangkok airport under threat of being expelled.

Under rules agreed at the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention, member states are banned from sending someone with refugee status back to the country they are fleeing. Thai officials eventually returned her passport and allowed her to stay in the country, under the care of the United Nations, following public pressure. "Whether he will try to find out where she is and go harass her".

Saudi Arabia's human rights record has been under heavy scrutiny since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi previous year. "She is 18 years old, she has an Australian visa, and she has the right to travel where she wishes and no government should interfere in that".