Australia is considering allowing a woman who fled Saudi Arabia to travel to the country after the United Nations confirmed the 18-year-old is a legitimate refugee.
Wednesday’s development marks a significant victory for Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who is currently in Bangkok, after evading her family and travelling alone from Kuwait on Saturday. She says Thailand‘s authorities attempted to block her from travelling to Australia to claim asylum.
Qunun has documented her bid to flee her allegedly abusive family with social media updates.
Her plight shot to public attention when she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to avoid deportation and shared dozens of fearful, but defiant messages online insisting on her right to asylum.
She was later placed in the care of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) while her bid for refugee status was considered.
Saudi Arabia charge d’affaires in Bangkok Mr. Alshuaibi
said “they should have took her phone instead of her passport”
Twitter account has changed the game against what he wished for me
— Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد (@rahaf84427714) January 8, 2019
On Wednesday, Australia’s Department of Home Affairs confirmed in a statement that UNHCR referred al-Qunun’s case to Canberra for consideration for refugee resettlement.
On the same day, she refused to meet her father and brother who travelled to Thailand.
Video footage posted on Twitter by a Saudi human rights activist appeared to show a Saudi official complaining that Thai authorities should have confiscated al-Qunun’s smartphone.
“When she arrived, she opened a new [Twitter] account and her followers grew to 45,000 in one day,” he said in Arabic. “It would have been better if they had confiscated her mobile instead of her passport.”
Saudi Arabia has some of the world’s toughest restrictions on women, including a guardianship system that allows male family members to make wide-ranging decisions on behalf of female relatives.