Monday, 21 January, 2019

Canberra to decide Saudi's fate after United Nations refugee ruling

Rahaf Mohammed Al Qunun shakes hands with Thai Immigration Police Chief Surachet Hakparn Rahaf Mohammed Al Qunun shakes hands with Thai Immigration Police Chief Surachet
Deanna Wagner | 11 January, 2019, 20:10

A Saudi woman who fled her family, alleging abuse, moved a step closer Wednesday to her goal of gaining asylum in Australia after a United Nations agency granted her refugee status.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, will board a Korean Air flight from Bangkok to Seoul on Friday night, immigration chief Surachate Hakpark said, before boarding a connecting flight to Canada.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Ms Qunun was stopped by authorities at Bangkok's main airport as she arrived on a flight from Kuwait on the weekend after running away from her family, who she says subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

He said her father, who has flown to Thailand with her brother to try and lobby for her return, was the equivalent of a municipal mayor in the highly conservative Saudi Arabian province Ha'il.

She refused to meet with them.

The ordeal of Saudi Arabian refugee Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun continues for now, with Australia's foreign minister telling reporters in Bangkok Thursday no asylum deal had been reached yet.

"The Department. will consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals", it said in a statement.

"Usually it's really very slow", said Mary Anne Kenny, a veteran legal practitioner and expert in Australian migration at Perth's Murdoch University.

Payne's visit will also put a spotlight on another refugee case, involving a Bahrain footballer Hakeem AlAraibi, who has refugee status in Australia but was arrested at Bangkok airport past year after arriving for his honeymoon.

But it may also have increased the risk to al-Qunun's safety - making her resettlement more urgent and strengthening her case for asylum.

Trump visits border to make case for $5.7 billion in wall funding
President Donald Trump addresses the Project Safe Neighborhoods National Conference on December 7, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll, 52% of voters pointed the finger at Trump and Congressional Republicans.

"Canada has granted her asylum", immigration chief Surachate Hakpark told Reuters news agency.

The case goes through normal processing such as security and character checks which can take months or even years depending on available information and how easy it is to corroborate, an immigration insider told the Guardian.

A similar point was made by UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch, who said that what was different in Alqunun's case was that "the wave of all of the voices of solidarity and support came together, joined up in terms of caring for this individual". Under the kingdom's strict guardianship laws, adult women must obtain permission from a male guardian to travel overseas, marry or be released from prison.

A Twitter user known as Nourah, whom Ms Alqunun has referred to as a friend, tweeted that the teen "received death threats and for this reason she closed her Twitter account".

"It would have been better if they had confiscated her mobile instead of her passport".

Al-Araibi's case is being considered by Thailand's justice system, she said.

He described the man as being a governor in Saudi Arabia. He is obligated to do everything in his power to advocate, both privately and publicly, and to use the enormous leverage that football has, with the Bahrain government, his own government, he's a Bahrainian national, and also with the Thai government to release Hakeem.

The human rights group Amnesty International said yesterday it welcomed the decision by UNHCR to grant refugee status to the teenage Saudi runaway. She had said on social media she was afraid of such an encounter.

The source, who was not authorized to speak about Canada's role in granting Ms.al-Qunun asylum, said the government would not make any public comment until it was assured that she was safely in Canada.

"So it's surprising that on one hand you have the very quick and welcome action on this case of Rahaf, but on the case of Hakeem it's still stuck based on a Bahrain request to Thailand to send him back to a situation where he would certainly face imprisonment, torture and worse".