Australia

Labor urges government to offer Saudi woman asylum in Australia

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Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun has been found to be a refugee by the UNHCR.

The father of 18-year-old Saudi woman, who fled to Thailand saying she feared her family, wants to 'take her home' and told the United Nations refugee agency he is 'against' her seeking asylum, the Thai immigration chief said on Wednesday.

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. 

Australia said on Wednesday it would consider taking in Alqunun after the UNHCR referred her case to Australia.

On Thursday morning, Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong told ABC Radio that opposition leader Bill Shorten had urged the Prime Minister to offer Ms Alqunun asylum in Australia.

"Labor has been supportive of the government’s moves to consider humanitarian settlement in Australia given she has been found to be owed protection,” she said.

"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.”

Ms Alqunun fled to Thailand saying she feared her family, which she accused of abuse, would kill her.

Ms Alqunun has refused to meet her father and brother who flew to Bangkok this week, Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said.

"He wanted to make sure that his daughter was safe ... he told me that he wanted to take her home," he said, adding that her father denied Ms Alqunun's allegation that her family was abusing her physically and emotionally.

Surachate added that Ms Alqunun's father would remain in Thailand, under the care of the Saudi Arabian embassy, until it is clear where she will receive asylum.

General Surachate said the father denied trying to force his daughter into an arranged marriage.

Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun
Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun.
Supplied

He said he wants his daughter back but respects her decision, General Surachate added, and described the man as being a governor in Saudi Arabia.

"He has 10 children. He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes," General Surachate said.

"But he didn't go into detail."

Ms Alqunun was initially denied entry to Thailand when she arrived on Saturday. She soon started posting messages on Twitter from the transit area of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport saying she had "escaped Kuwait" and her life would be in danger if forced to return to Saudi Arabia.

Within hours, a campaign sprang up on Twitter, spread by a loose network of activists around the world, prompting the Thai government to reverse a decision to force the young woman onto a plane that would return her to her family.

Global attention

Ms Alqunun's case has drawn global attention to Saudi Arabia's strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male "guardian" to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

It comes at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.

Referred to Australia

Earlier Wednesday, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said there will be no "special treatment" for Ms Alqunun and her case would be considered by UN referral in the usual way.

Speaking to reporters in Brisbane, Mr Dutton added that "nobody wants to see a young girl in distress and she has obviously now found a safe haven in Thailand".

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun in Bangkok.
Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun in Bangkok.
AAP

Ms Alqunun had planned to enter Australia on a tourist visa and seek asylum before she was detained by Thai authorities on Sunday.

She is now in the care of UN officials.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton talks to reporters.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton talks to reporters.
AAP

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Australian government has been urging the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to process her case quickly.

"We've been successful in getting them to agree to do that," Mr Hunt told ABC TV on Wednesday.

Australia will consider giving Ms Alqunun a humanitarian visa if the process finds she is a refugee, he said.

"Pending the outcome of that, if she is found to be a refugee, then we will give very, very, very serious consideration to a humanitarian visa."

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'Frightened' Saudi teen faces dire situation if deported: Human Rights Watch
'Frightened' Saudi teen faces dire situation if deported: Human Rights Watch

In a since-deleted tweet, Ms Alqunun's friends spoke about her concern for her 11-year-old sister's welfare.

"Please don't be hard on my sister," the teenager's friends tweeted to her family on her behalf on Wednesday.

With AAP

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