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The Saudi Teenager Who Fled Her Family Has Been Recognized As A Refugee By The UN

Australia is now considering whether to grant asylum to 18-year-old Rahaf al-Qunun.

Posted on January 9, 2019, at 6:25 a.m. ET

Handout / Reuters

The Saudi teenager who barricaded herself inside a Thai airport hotel room after fleeing her allegedly abusive family has been recognized as a refugee by the United Nations.

Australia’s Department of Home Affairs confirmed in a statement Wednesday it was now considering her case.

Rahaf al-Qunun, 18, made headlines around the world after she went viral live-tweeting her efforts to avoid being returned to Saudi Arabia.

Partly as a result of a massive social media campaign organized by her and three other Saudi women, Qunun left the airport accompanied by officials from the UNHCR, the UN body responsible for refugee affairs, to have her asylum claim assessed.

For all countries that can help , we ask for urgent protection , only you can save my life. #saverahaf

A spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Home Affairs — which handles all immigration inquiries — confirmed the UNHCR had referred Qunun’s case for “consideration for refugee resettlement.”

“The Department of Home Affairs will consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals,” the spokesperson said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. They said they would not comment further on the case.

Caroline Gluck, UNHCR’s spokesperson for Asia, also declined to comment when contacted by BuzzFeed News.

“It was a pretty exceptional case which is why we put out a statement previously,” she said. “We do not normally comment on individual cases.”

Although Qunun remains under the protection of UN officials in Thailand while Australia determines her status, her future is far from certain — despite widespread celebration online.

We won 😭💪🏻💪🏻💪🏻💪🏻💪🏻❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️😭😭😭

Australia’s home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, told reporters before the referral was confirmed that there would be “no special treatment” for Qunun.

Australia has a mixed record on asylum claims.

Past governments have adopted tough measures on immigration, detaining hundreds of refugees in a controversial facility on the island of Nauru. Human rights campaigners have condemned conditions in the center.

Qunun’s Twitter account, run by three Saudi women, posted messages Tuesday night urging people not to forget the 18-year-old, as the publicity around her campaign was so important.

On behalf of Rahaf we, her friends, thank all of you guys for the tremendous support that Rahaf has never dreamed of. You are the source of her power and she’s asking you “Don’t abandon me yet. I’m not safe yet, hopefully, I will be transferred to a safe country soon” ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Marise Payne, Australia’s foreign minister, is due in Thailand to discuss the case of Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, who had been living and working in Australia. She has not commented on whether she will raise Qunun’s case with the Thai authorities.


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