UN referred Saudi teenager’s asylum case to Australia, says government


The father of a Saudi teenager who fled from her “abusive” family bound for Australia has denied claims he physically and psychologically abused his daughter.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, had planned to enter Australia on a tourist visa and seek asylum before she was detained by Thai authorities on Sunday. The young woman, who said she feared being killed by her family if she is deported home to Saudi Arabia, has now been granted UN refugee status. Australia is now considering granting asylum to the runaway teenager.

However Ms Alqunun’s father, a Saudi government official who has 10 children, has told Thai police Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Alqunun his daughter fled simply because she “felt neglected”, Nine News reports.

The man, who has not been identified, arrived in Bangkok with one of his sons on Tuesday evening with the intention of speaking with his daughter.

“The father and brother want to go and talk to Rahaf but the UN will need to approve such talk,” Surachte Hakpan, Thailand’s immigration chief, said.

Overnight, Ms Alqunun shared a smiling photo on Twitter saying she was “happy” after the United Nations’ High Commission for Refugees decided she was a genuine refugee.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Australian government confirmed the UNHCR had referred the 18-year-old for refugee resettlement.

“The Department of Home Affairs will consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals,” a spokesperson said.

“The government will be making no further comment on this matter.”

Ms Alqunun will be subject to Australian security and character checks as the government examines her suitability for refugee settlement.

Before the referral, Australia signalled it would seriously consider allowing Ms Alqunun to settle in Australia after urging the UNHCR to process her case quickly.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said there would be no “special treatment” in Ms Alqunun’s case.

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

The teenager made a desperate plea for asylum after expressing fears her family would kill her if she were sent home.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia would consider giving Ms Alqunun a humanitarian visa if the UNHCR process found her to be a refugee.

“Pending the outcome of that, if she is found to be a refugee, then we will give very, very, very serious consideration to a humanitarian visa,” he told the ABC.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison giving his support for the woman’s claim if she was found to be a refugee. “Should Ms Mohammed Alqunun be found to have valid protection claims and entitled to asylum, Labor would be supportive of any government moves to offer her humanitarian settlement,” Mr Shorten wrote.

After being detained, the teenager renounced Islam and appealed for help from Australia, Canada, the United States, Britain and other European nations.

Saudi Arabia has strict social rules, including a requirement women have permission from a male “guardian” to travel.

The teenager’s case has again highlighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. Human rights activists say many similar cases of female Saudi runaways will have gone unreported.

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