Tuesday 22 January 2019

Saudi asylum seeker going to Canada, says Thailand

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, is believed to be leaving on a flight late on Friday.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

By Associated Press Reporters

A Saudi teenager who holed up in Thailand after fleeing alleged abuse by her family will leave Bangkok for Canada, according to Thailand’s immigration police chief.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, is leaving on a flight late on Friday evening, said Police Chief Surachate Hakparn.

He earlier said that several countries including Canada and Australia were in talks with the UN refugee agency on accepting Ms Mohammed Alqunun.

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Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, right, in Bangkok (Sakchai Lalit/AP)

She was on her way to Australia last Saturday but was stopped at a Bangkok airport by immigration police who seized her passport.

She barricaded herself in an airport hotel room and launched a social media campaign that drew global attention to her case.

Thai officials agreed to admit her temporarily under the protection of UN officials who granted her refugee status on Wednesday.

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Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun launched a social media campaign (Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun/Human Rights Watch/AP)

The case has highlighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. Several female Saudis fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home. Human rights activists say many similar cases have gone unreported.

If Canada takes Ms Mohammed Alqunun, it could further upset Saudi-Canada relations. In August, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador to the kingdom and withdrew its own ambassador in a row over the arrests of women’s right activists.

The Saudis also sold Canadian investments and ordered their citizens studying in Canada to leave.

Australian foreign minister Marise Payne met senior Thai officials in Bangkok on Thursday. She later told reporters that Australia was assessing Ms Mohammed Alqunun’s request for resettlement.

Ms Payne said she also raised Australia’s concerns with Thai officials about Hakeem al-Araibi, a 25-year-old former member of Bahrain’s national football team who was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017 after fleeing his homeland, where he said he was persecuted and tortured.

He was arrested while on holiday in Thailand last November due to an Interpol notice in which Bahrain sought his custody after he was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalising a police station — a charge he denies. Bahrain is seeking his extradition.

His case is being considered by Thailand’s justice system, she said.

Press Association

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