No Solution Quite Yet for Terrified Saudi Refugee in Thailand

Elias Hubbard
January 11, 2019

As well as the Qunun case she is expected to discuss Hakeem al-Araibi, the Australian permanent resident who has been detained in Thailand for six weeks and fears deportation to Bahrain.

But al-Qunun's savvy use of Twitter throughout her ordeal at Bangkok airport, including tweeting videos of her barricading herself in a hotel room, galvanised a global campaign and calls for her to be granted asylum.

Visiting Thailand on Thursday, Payne praised her hosts for their handling of the case of the young Saudi woman fleeing her family to seek asylum in Australia, but said she also reminded them of continuing concern about a Bahraini soccer player granted asylum in Australia who is in Thai detention.

Her friend Shahad, 19, who fled Saudi Arabia for Sweden, said Ms al-Qunun was advised "no, you can not stay".

Ms Alqunun had planned to enter Australia on a tourist visa and seek asylum before she was detained last weekend.

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne, left, gestures as she answers a journalist's question in Bangkok, Thailand.

Ms Alqunun has refused to meet her father and brother who flew to Bangkok this week, and told SBS News she has no plans to do so before leaving Thailand.

"There is no possibility that will be going back with me, as you put it, today", she told reporters at the Australian Embassy in Bangkok.

"Shorten did write to the prime minister on Tuesday indicating that if she had a valid claim we support their efforts to offer her settlement in Australia".

On Thursday, the Secret Sisterhood - a protest group advocating for Qunun to be granted a humanitarian visa to Australia - held a topless demonstration at Sydney's bustling Martin Place.

Australia on Wednesday said the UNHCR had studied her case and designated her as a legitimate refugee.

"Let's hope that the change of heart that the Thai government has had in Rahaf's case equally applies in Hakeem's case", Pearson said. Thailand Immigration Police chief Lt. Gen. Surachate Hakparn said the father - whose name has not been released - denied physically abusing Alqunun or trying to force her into an arranged marriage, which were among the reasons she gave for her flight. Surachate described the father as being a governor in Saudi Arabia. He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes.

"FIFA is therefore calling on all the relevant authorities (in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia) to take the necessary steps to ensure that Mr Hakeem Al-Alaraibi is allowed to return safely to Australia where he can resume his career as a professional footballer", a statement read.

In a statement to 10 daily, a spokesperson for the department said it would consider her referral for resettlement in Australia. Bahrain is seeking his extradition.

"Usually it's really very slow", said Mary Anne Kenny, a veteran legal practitioner and expert in Australian migration at Perth's Murdoch University. He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active.

According to Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), which has lobbied for al-Qunun to be resettled, that outcome is unlikely.

Bahrain, which is a close ally of Britain and hosts the United States navy's Fifth Fleet, has been the scene of a low-level insurgency ever since a failed uprising inspired by 2011's Arab spring.

A spokesman told The Guardian: "FFA confirms it has also held direct dialogue with senior officials from Fifa, AFC and the Football Association of Thailand".

The world football body, Fifa, issued another press release on Thursday calling for "a humane and speedy resolution of the case" and Araibi's release. "The silence of the Asian Football Confederation is not just confounding, it's absolutely disgraceful", he said.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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