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


The United Nations has deemed a young Saudi woman stuck in Bangkok to be a refugee, referring her case to Australia.

According to Rahaf, she only arrived to Bangkok to catch a connecting flight to Australia, a country she allegedly already obtained a visa for.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun is now being evaluated by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) to assess her need for worldwide protection, a process that usually takes months.

At Bangkok's global airport, security officials stopped her and confiscated her passport, which she said was later returned.

Her plight shot to public attention when she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to avoid deportation and shared dozens of fearful but defiant messages online insisting on her right to asylum.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, pictured at Bangkok airport, says she "wants to be free" away from Saudi Arabia.

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"We are very grateful that the Thai authorities did not send back Ms. Al-qunun against her will and are extending protection for her", UNHCR Thailand country representative Giuseppe de Vicentiis was quoted as saying in a statement released on Tuesday morning.

She said she feared her family would kill her for renouncing Islam.

"When it became clear that she wasn't going to leave, I decided it was important to stay and have someone documenting what was going on", Ms McNeill said.

Without her family's knowledge, the young Saudi rebel obtained an Australian visa and an airline ticket to Sydney, Australia, where she meant to ask for asylum.

Al-Qunun alleged several times that Saudi officials were involved in seizing her passport. But as her desperate calls for help quickly attracted human rights campaigners and United Nations refugee staffers intervened, they promised not to deport her.

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The ultra-conservative Saudi kingdom has always been criticised for imposing some of the world's toughest restrictions on women. "She had no further documents such as return ticket or money", he said, adding that Rahaf was now staying at an airport hotel.

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Saudi's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that its embassy in Bangkok was in contact with the father "as it's the Embassy's role to inform him on her situation and the date of her return".

Bangkok Post reported that her father and an elder brother are due to arrive in Bangkok.

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.

"The government has made representations to the Thai government and the Bangkok office of the UNHCR about its serious concerns on this matter and the need for Al-Qunun's claim to be assessed expeditiously", the official said.

"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not asked for her extradition".

"Yesterday, they [social media supporters] made the difference in Rahaf's life", she said. After one hour he came back with five or six people, I think they were police or something and then they told me my father is so angry and I must go back to Saudi Arabia.

Even though Thailand has at least 100,000 refugees within its borders, the country is not a signatory to the UNHRC and has no legal protection to those who seek asylum.

The decision was a matter for Immigration Minister David Coleman, Mr Dutton said. Once, she said, her family locked her up in a room for half a year because she cut her hair in a style they disliked.

"She's an adult woman who has escaped Saudi Arabia's repressive and discriminatory "guardianship" laws and these men must recognize the rules have changed", he said, adding it is "solely her decision" whether or not to meet them.

Dina Ali Lasloom, 24, was en route from Kuwait via the Philippines but was taken back to Saudi Arabia from Manila airport by her family.

The comments sparked anger on social media.