A Saudi teen was granted refugee status Wednesday after fleeing to Thailand out of fear that her family would kill her for renouncing Islam.
The U.N. conferred refugee status on Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, with the Australian government saying it's considering her status as an asylum seeker.
Qunun’s plight gained worldwide attention after she fled her family during a trip to Kuwait and flew to Bangkok, barricading herself in an airport hotel room and refusing to board a flight back to the Middle East. A coordinated social media campaign led to an outpouring of support.
The U.N. high commissioner for refugees assessed Qunun’s case and gave her refugee status, referring her to Australia for resettlement. Thai officials said that Qunun’s case could be resolved within a couple of days after several undisclosed countries had made offers of residency.
The Australian government said it “will consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals.”
Qunun remains in an undisclosed location in Bangkok under the protection of UNHCR until a long-term solution can be found.
Thai officials confirmed Wednesday that Qunun’s father, Mohammed al-Qunun — a high-ranking Saudi government official — and her brother had arrived in Thailand, but they had been refused access to see her.
Qunun fled Saudi Arabia in fear for her life after she left the religion. She told Reuters earlier this week: “My brothers and family and the Saudi embassy will be waiting for me in Kuwait. My life is in danger. My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things.”
Saudi Arabia’s charge d’affaires in Bangkok was captured on camera Wednesday criticizing Thai officials for failing to confiscate Qunun’s phone when she got off her flight at Bangkok airport Saturday.
“As soon as [Qunun] arrived, she opened an account and got about 45,000 followers? In a single day,” Abdullah al-Shuaibi said during a meeting with Thai officials. “I wish they would’ve confiscated her phone instead of her passport.”
Thai officials quickly dismissed the criticism. “I’d like to emphasize that police didn’t have the authority to confiscate her phone,” Surachate Hakparn, Thailand's chief of immigration police, told reporters. “She didn’t commit a crime, and it was within her rights [to tweet].”
Three Saudi women who also fled the kingdom and are now located in Australia, Canada and Sweden, are working with Qunun to keep her Twitter account — which had grown to 110,000 followers as of Wednesday morning— updated about her situation.
Cover image: Eighteen-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qanun (C) is escorted to a vehicle by a Thai immigration officer and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials at Suvarnabhumi international airport in Bangkok on January 7, 2019. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)