Sydney - The United Nations has asked Australia to consider refugee resettlement for an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled to Thailand saying she feared her family would kill her, the Australian government said on Wednesday.
The teenager, Rahaf Mohammad Al Qunun, arrived in Bangkok on the weekend appealing for asylum. Australia said it would consider resettling her if the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) deemed her a refugee.
"The UNHCR has referred Ms Rahaf Mohammad Al Qunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement," Australia's Department of Homeland Security said in an email.
The department said it would consider the referral "in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals". It declined to comment further.
The UNHCR office in Thailand also declined to comment.
Qunun arrived in Bangkok on Saturday and was initially denied entry.
She soon started posting messages on Twitter from the transit area of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport saying she had "escaped Kuwait" and her life would be in danger if forced to return to Saudi Arabia.
Within hours, a campaign sprung up on Twitter, spread by a loose network of activists around the world.
Within 36 hours it prompted Thailand's government to reverse a decision to force the young woman onto a plane that would return her to her family.
She was allowed to enter Thailand and on Tuesday began the process of seeking asylum in a third country through the U.N. refugee agency.
Father of Rahaf in Thailand
The father of Rafah, who fled to Thailand saying she feared her family would kill her, has arrived in Bangkok and wants to meet his daughter, Thailand’s immigration chief said on Tuesday.
But Rahaf father and brother would have to wait and see whether the UN refugee agency would allow them to see her, immigration chief Surachate Hakpan said.
“The father and brother want to go and talk to Rahaf but the U.N. will need to approve such talk,” Surachate told reporters.
Qunun is staying in a Bangkok hotel while the UNHCR processes her application for refugee status, before she can seek asylum in a third country.
UNHCR staff were interviewing her on Tuesday after meeting her the day before.
“It could take several days to process the case and determine next steps,” UNHCR’s Thailand representative Giuseppe de Vincentiis said in a statement.
Qunun told the world of her dramatic plight on social media, drawing widespread support and concern, which convinced Thai authorities to back down from deporting her back to Saudi Arabia.
She was finally allowed to enter Thailand late on Monday after spending 48 hours at Bangkok airport, some of it barricaded in a transit lounge hotel room.
Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Thailand denied reports that Riyadh had requested her extradition.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not asked for her extradition. The embassy considers this issue a family matter,” the embassy said in a post on Twitter.
The Thai immigration chief said on Monday the embassy had alerted Thai authorities to the case, and said that the woman had run away from her parents and they feared for her safety.