al-Qunun, Saudi teen who fled to Thailand, given UN refugee status

al-Qunun, Saudi teen who fled to Thailand, given UN refugee status

The 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled to Thailand to escape her family has been declared by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) to be a legitimate refugee, Australian officials said Thursday.

Australia is conducting health, security and other background checks on Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun ahead of her possible resettlement in the country as a refugee, a spokesperson for the Australian Foreign Minister’s Office confirmed to CNN.

The UNHCR referred her protection request to Australia on Wednesday.

Qunun had flown to Thailand from Kuwait to escape her family who she feared 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 the world’s attention to her case through a global social media campaign launched mostly on Twitter.

She documented her arrival and subsequent detention in Bangkok on her smart phone, creating new Twitter and Periscope accounts where she received a deluge of supportive messages.

It was enough to pressure the Thai authorities to allow her access to the UNHCR and 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’s father had also traveled to Bangkok to meet with Thai officials on Thursday but was not allowed to meet with his daughter.

Thailand’s immigration police chief, Surachate Hakparn, said the father refuted claims that he tried to force the 18-year-old into marriage, and said that there was no abuse or physical assaults against his daughter.

Qunun’s father told Hakparn his daughter may have felt “under cared” for in a family of 10 children and that her mother’s health has been adversely affected by her leaving.

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