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Saudi woman 'under the care' of United Nations agency

10 January 2019

Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun walks with Thai immigration authorities at a hotel inside Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand January 7, 2019. "My life is in danger".

The Saudi Foreign Ministry denied her allegations that its embassy had confiscated her passport, saying in a Tweet she was stopped at the airport for violating Thai immigration laws.

She has been granted a temporary stay in the Southeast Asian country, under the protection of the UNHCR, which will spend about a week processing her asylum claim. "We will not send anyone to die", he said.

In her initial social media pleas, Qunun said her family was powerful in Saudi society but she did not identify them.

Photos released on Monday night by immigration police showed Ms Alqunun with Thai and United Nations officials after she left the airport transit hotel room where she had been holed up over the weekend.

Surachate also said if Thai authorities decide not to send her back to Saudi Arabia, they would have to provide their reasons to Saudi authorities in order not to not affect the countries' relations. She said she planned to spend a few days in Thailand so she would not spark suspicion when she left Kuwait.

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"Any application by Ms Al-Qunun for a humanitarian visa will be carefully considered once the UNHCR process has concluded", a Department of Home Affairs official told AFP.

Saudi Arabia's human rights record has come under intense scrutiny since the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in October. She told the New York Times that she had managed to escape while in Kuwait because women there are allowed to travel on their own.

HRW's Robertson said Qunun "faces grave harm if she is forced back to Saudi Arabia".

Rahaf was holed up inside a hotel room at the airport, Monday, to avoid being deported on a Kuwait Airways plane scheduled for Monday morning.

Giuseppe De Vincentiis, the UNHCR representative in Thailand, told journalists he did not know where Alqunun would be staying but that she would be safe because she was under his agency's protection.

"My family is strict and locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair", she said.

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After fleeing her family and renouncing her Islamic faith, Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Alqunun fears for her life as she attempts to travel to Australia seeking refuge.

Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters that Qunun's father and brother had arrived in Thailand on Tuesday.

He was speaking after meeting Abdalelah Mohammed Alsheaiby, charge d'affaires at Saudi Arabia's embassy in Bangkok, while discussing Thailand's stance on al-Qunun's much-publicised case.

The organization's Australian director, Elaine Pearson, said she had seen electronic confirmation of her tourist visa, but that Alqunun could no longer access her visa page on Australia's immigration website on Tuesday, sparking concern that the document had been canceled.

"It is a very distressing position she is in", Senator Wong said. Talking to MailOnline, Rahaf described her fear of being murdered if she was returned to her male family members.

A statement issued Monday by the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for refugees said it sought to assess 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun's "need for global refugee protection and find an immediate solution for her situation". "She had a passport but no return ticket, no travel plan, and no destination or hotel reservation in per airport security procedures, immigration denied her entry".

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The agency maintains that refugees and asylum seekers - whether confirmed to be in need of its protection or claiming to need it - can not legally be returned to their countries of origin, the UNHRC said in a statement, citing the principle of "non-refoulement".

Saudi woman 'under the care' of United Nations agency