The Australian government is prepared to give the Saudi woman stuck in Bangkok asylum but only if she passes character and security checks and applies for a visa from Thailand, The Australian reports.
It comes after Thailand’s immigration police chief met today with officials from the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok, as Saudi Arabia tried to distance itself from accusations that it attempted to block a young woman’s effort to flee from her family and seek asylum abroad.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun arrived in Bangkok from Kuwait overnight Sunday after slipping away from her family, whom she accused of abusing her. The 18-year-old was stopped by officials in Thailand who confiscated her passport.
Her urgent pleas for help over Twitter from an airport hotel room garnered tens of thousands of followers and the attention of the UN’s refugee agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Public pressure prompted Thai officials to return her passport and let her temporarily stay in Thailand.
Alqunun alleged several times that Saudi officials were involved in seizing her passport. However, in repeated statements, including one issued today, the Saudi Embassy in Thailand said it is only monitoring her situation.
Its latest statement, which described Alqunun’s case as a “family affair,” said Saudi Arabia did not demand her deportation back home.
The embassy — and Thai officials — earlier also said that Alqunun was stopped by Thai authorities in Bangkok because she did not have a return ticket, a hotel reservation or itinerary to show she was a tourist, which appeared to have raised a red flag about the reasons for her trip.
Thailand’s immigration police chief, Major General Surachate Hakparn, told reporters today that Saudi diplomats told him they are satisfied with how her case had been handled.
“The position of two countries on this matter is the same — that the priority is to provide her safety. We are both concerned for Miss Rahaf’s safety and well-being,” Surachate said.
A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees at its Geneva headquarters, Babar Baloch, said it could take several days for the agency to look into Alqunun’s claims. He said it was “too early to tell” if she will be granted asylum or refugee status.
“For us, all individual cases are alike. It’s different the way we get access to those individuals … [what’s] different in this case is the wave of all of the voices of solidarity and support came together, joined up in terms of caring for this individual,” he said. “This should be the standard for any individual who claims that his or her life is in danger.”
Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has come under intense scrutiny since the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in October.
Khashoggi, who wrote critically of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in columns for The Washington Post, had been living in self-imposed exile before he was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul by Saudi agents.
The kingdom offered various shifting accounts of the circumstances of his death before eventually settling on the explanation that he died in a botched operation to forcibly bring him back to Saudi Arabia.
A government source told The Australian Ms Alqunun would be refused entry to Australia on a tourist visa because it’s not her real reason for entering the country. However, Immigration Minister David Coleman is “very likely” to grant asylum if the 18-year-old passes all checks.
Ms Alqunun is currently in the care of United Nations officials who say it will take about five days to process her request for assistance after she said she feared her family would kill her if she were sent home.