Saudi Teen Who Fled Family Granted Refugee Status

Next stop, Australia?
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 9, 2019 5:15 AM CST
Australia May Accept Saudi Teen Who Fled Family
In this Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, photo released by Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun/Human Rights Watch, Rahaf Mohammed al-Qqunun views her mobile phone as she sits barricaded in a hotel room at an international airport in Bangkok, Thailand.   (Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun/Human Rights Watch via AP)

A Saudi Arabian teenager who barricaded herself in an airport hotel room and pleaded for the world's help has won her fight to be treated as a refugee. The United Nations high commissioner for refugees assessed Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, on Wednesday and determined that she is a legitimate refugee, the Guardian reports. The commissioner referred her to Australia for resettlement. Al-Qunun said Monday that she had fled her abusive family and feared she would be killed for renouncing Islam, but authorities in Thailand had refused to let her board a plane to Australia and were threatening to send her back to relatives in Kuwait, where she had been on a family holiday.

Australian officials have hinted that al-Qunun, who was eventually allowed to leave the Bangkok airport, will be accepted as a refugee, the BBC reports. Australian officials say she won't receive special treatment, though Elaine Pearson, director of Human Rights Watch Australia, has urged them to move quickly. "She is a young Saudi woman whose face has been plastered around the world," Pearson said Wednesday. "She's more at risk than other refugees, not just from her family but threats she has faced online and from her own government." Pearson added: "We all know what the Saudi government is capable of doing on foreign soil." (More Saudi Arabia stories.)

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