Who is Rahaf al-Qunun, why is her life in danger?

Elias Hubbard
January 12, 2019

Qunun, fleeing alleged abuse by her conservative family, says she tried to reach Australia on a tourist visa.

Australia said it will now decide whether to grant al-Qunun asylum.

The woman fled from her family and expressed fears for her own life.

A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Babar Baloch, said at its Geneva headquarters that it could take several days for the agency to look into Qunun's claims.

Al-Qunun's plight unfolded on social media, drawing support from around the world, which convinced Thai authorities to back down from sending her back to Saudi Arabia.

Hakeem al-Araiby, a Bahraini refugee and torture survivor who was living in Australia, has been detained by Thailand for weeks as he awaits an extradition hearing.

"It would have been better if they confiscated her cell phone instead of her passport because Twitter changed everything".

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.

"You are the real power help me to send my message, I need PROTECTION", she tweeted Tuesday afternoon, adding the hashtag #savemylife.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun arrived in Bangkok on Saturday, January 5, appealing for asylum and her application was fast tracked for security reasons, partly because of the arrival of her father and brother.

Ms Alqunun later tweeted the video and wrote that her "Twitter account has changed the game against what he wished for me".

She said she would be imprisoned or worse if she was sent back to Saudi Arabia, telling Human Rights Watch she was fleeing abuse from her family, including beatings and death threats from male relatives, who forced her to remain in her room for six months for cutting her hair.

Thailand is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and provides no legal protection to asylum seekers, although there are more than 100,000 refugees in the country.

Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn conceded that Twitter can "attract the interest of the global community" but denied authorities were swayed by Rahaf's social media barrage. Those women and the men who are fighting for women's rights activists who are in prison today in Saudi Arabia, they are the leaders - the vanguard of a revolution that will free Saudi women... by ending once and for all the guardianship system which is the foundation of patriarchy in Saudi Arabia... Alqunun's family was abusive, she said, even more so since she had renounced Islam. "I would hope that, once her claim has been assessed, the Australian government will act quickly to get her out of Thailand and to safety".

Thailand's immigration police chief, Surachet Hakpal, told CNN that he would try to set up a meeting with family members if the United Nations agency permitted it.

"[Ms] Rahaf is not a political asylum case", he insisted.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the activist said there had been instances where Saudi women runaways were stopped by authorities in Hong Kong or the Philippines en route to Australia or New Zealand.

AFP was unable to contact Saudi authorities for comment on the footage. In the meantime, her al-Qunun has asked that the media and public continue to pressure officials to follow-through on securing her asylum.

The ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has come under fire since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country's consulate in Istanbul past year.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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