Abused Saudi teen who posted story online will be resettled in Australia after refugee status is verified
After a harrowing ordeal posted to social media, a Saudi Arabian teen, 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammad Alqun Qunun will be heading to Australia following a stay in Thailand while she flees her family. Qunun said she left her family when they were on a holiday to Kuwait, according to Sky News. The teen fled and alleged to various media outlets that she had been beaten and locked in a room for six months because she had cut her hair. Qunun barricaded herself in an airport hotel at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, because she feared that her family would kill her if she was deported back to Saudi Arabia.
The UN agency UNHCR met with the teen in order to determine if she was a legitimate refugee, and following their investigation of the claims she presented, Alqun was allowed to stay in Thailand. The organization told her that they would not send her anywhere against her wishes but her father, a Saudi Arabian government official named Mohammad Qunun, arrived in Bangkok to persuade her to return home. According to Thai Major General Surachate Hakparn, Qunun isn’t willing to go back. “As of now, she does not wish to go back and we will not force her,” Hakparn told Sky News. “She won’t be sent anywhere tonight. She fled hardship. Thailand is a land of smiles. We will not send anyone to die. We will not do that. We will adhere to human rights under the rule of law.”
As a result of the investigation, the UNHCR referred Alqun to the government of Australia for refugee resettlement, but the government has been asked to clarify reports that it canceled her visa. Qunun’s 20-year-old friend Nourah Alharbi told the Guardian, “We found out they cancelled the tourist visa… It was a tourist visa and now they’ve cancelled it. I don’t know [the reason] because they’re not answering.” Australia’s Labor immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann did not comment on the visa status, but instead issued a statement saying, “She’s got an application she’s making with the UNHCR with refugee status. I won’t preempt the outcome of that particular process,”
Qunun has tweeted that she feels safe while under the protection of the U.N. workers and the government of Thailand, and her situation has brought more attention to the issues faced by girls and women in Saudi Arabia. Her passport has been returned to her after being taken by officials. Usually in Saudi Arabia women are only given passports or allowed to travel or marry after the approval of a male family member.
A case similar to Qunun’s took place in 2017, when Dina Ali Lasloom was stopped in the Philippines while she also attempted to flee to Australia. Lasloom was forced to return to Saudi Arabia, where she was never heard from again.
“Given Saudi Arabia’s long track record of looking the other way in so-called honour violence incidents, her worry that she could be killed if returned cannot be ignored,” Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia director Phil Robertson told the Guardian.