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Rahaf al-Qunun: Saudi teen granted asylum in Australia, officials say

CNN logo CNN 1/11/2019 By Kocha Olarn and Helen Regan, CNN
Immigration Bureau, Royal Thai PoliceRahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Al-Qunun the Saudi teenager who claims to be fleeing her abusive family and barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport transit hotel has left the hotel under UNHCR protection looking ìhappy and relaxed.î Thai Police Lieutenant Colonel Surachet Hakpal said ìWe will arrange a safe place for her to stay under care of UNHCR.î After meeting with Thai immigration officials and UNHCR representatives she has left the hotel with UNHCR staffs from back door avoiding the waiting media outside, Hakpal told CNNís Kocha Olarn who is at Bangkok. UNHCR released a statement during the meeting, it said that the UNHCR was ìassessing her need for international refugee protection and find an immediate solution for her situation.î: Immigration Bureau, Royal Thai Police Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Al-Qunun the Saudi teenager who claims to be fleeing her abusive family and barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport transit hotel has left the hotel under UNHCR protection looking ìhappy and relaxed.î Thai Police Lieutenant Colonel Surachet Hakpal said ìWe will arrange a safe place for her to stay under care of UNHCR.î After meeting with Thai immigration officials and UNHCR representatives she has left the hotel with UNHCR staffs from back door avoiding the waiting media outside, Hakpal told CNNís Kocha Olarn who is at Bangkok. UNHCR released a statement during the meeting, it said that the UNHCR was ìassessing her need for international refugee protection and find an immediate solution for her situation.î © Immigration Bureau, Royal Thai Police Immigration Bureau, Royal Thai Police Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Al-Qunun the Saudi teenager who claims to be fleeing her abusive family and barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport transit hotel has left the hotel under UNHCR protection looking ìhappy and relaxed.î Thai Police Lieutenant Colonel Surachet Hakpal said ìWe will arrange a safe place for her to stay under care of UNHCR.î After meeting with Thai immigration officials and UNHCR representatives she has left the hotel with UNHCR staffs from back door avoiding the waiting media outside, Hakpal told CNNís Kocha Olarn who is at Bangkok. UNHCR released a statement during the meeting, it said that the UNHCR was ìassessing her need for international refugee protection and find an immediate solution for her situation.î

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, the 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled to Thailand to escape her allegedly abusive family, has been granted asylum in Australia, a Thai immigration official said Friday.

"Yes, Australian has granted her asylum, but we are waiting to hear where exactly she is going," immigration police chief Surachate Hakparn confirmed to CNN.

Hakparn said Canada had also offered Qunun asylum and they were waiting for her decision.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR had referred Qunun's protection request to Australia on Wednesday, though it had not been confirmed before now that Canada was also considering her case.

Hakparn said Qunun, who is staying in an undisclosed location in Bangkok, would be leaving Thailand "almost as soon as the final decision is made."

"We are providing necessary security for her," he said.

The Australian Department of Home Affairs declined to comment to CNN, which has also reached out to the Canadian government for confirmation.

Qunun had flown to Thailand from Kuwait to escape her family, saying she feared they would kill her because she renounced Islam. She intended to fly on to Australia, but barricaded herself in a hotel room in Bangkok's main airport on Sunday after Thai immigration officials attempted to deport her back to the Middle East.

Qunun and her supporters drew global attention to her case through a social media campaign launched mostly on Twitter. She documented her arrival and subsequent detention in Bangkok on her smartphone, creating new Twitter and Periscope accounts where she received a deluge of supportive messages.

Her story has also put Saudi Arabia's guardianship laws, which restrict many aspects of women's lives, back under international scrutiny.

In response to the media campaign Thai authorities allowed her access to the UNHCR and did not deport her to Kuwait. Her online campaign was so successful that Saudi charge d'affaires Abdalelah Mohammed A. al-Shuaibi told Thai officials through a translator: "We wish they had confiscated her phone instead of her passport."

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

On Friday, Qunun's twitter account appeared to have been deleted.

Resettlement not an option for many refugees

Qunun's case is unusual because of the speedy offer of resettlement. It is not an automatic right for refugees and less than 1% of registered refugees globally are resettled each year, according to the UNHCR.

Refugees can wait their whole lives for a third country to accept them. The process is often assessed on the urgency of a refugee's individual needs, with the most vulnerable prioritized. Refugees can wait from nine months to several years to hear an answer -- longer if they appeal a refusal.

On Wednesday, Australia's Department of Home Affairs had told CNN it would consider Qunun's "referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals." Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also said there would be no "special treatment" in the case, according to CNN affiliate Nine News.

"Nobody wants to see a young girl in distress and she has obviously now found a safe haven in Thailand," Dutton told reporters in Brisbane.

Shortly after hearing about Qunun's plight, Australia said that it would "carefully consider" granting Qunun a humanitarian protection visa, if she applied for one.

Such a visa wouldallow Qunun to stay permanently in Australia and have the right to work and study. She would also be able to propose or sponsor family members for permanent residence.

On Wednesday, Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Stefano Maron told CNN that Canada is very concerned by, and is closely watching, Qunun's case.

"We are in close contact with partners about her situation," Maron said. "Canada will always stand up for human rights, very much including women's rights."

CNN's Angus Watson reported from Hong Kong.

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