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Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, right, walks with Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand on Jan. 7, 2019 in this photo released by the Immigration Police.
Immigration police/AP
Girls & Women

Teen Fleeing Saudi Arabia Is One Step Closer to Receiving Asylum


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Strict laws around the world stop women from receiving basic rights. With refugee status, Saudi teen Rahaf al-Qunun is closer to living a safe, independent life. You can join us on taking action on this issue here

The United Nations has recognized Saudi teenager Rahaf al-Qunun as a refugee after she barricaded herself in a Thai airport to escape her allegedly abusive family, the BBC reports

Qunun was detained in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport Saturday for not having a visa but gained international attention when she and three Saudi women launched the social media campaign #SaveRahaf. Australia’s Department for Home Affairs announced in a statement Wednesday it was considering her request for asylum, according to BuzzFeed News.

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"If she is found to be a refugee, then we will give very, very, very serious consideration to a humanitarian visa," Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt told the ABC network before the UN determination was made public.

Qunun also asked Canada, the UK, and the US for asylum. More than 80,000 people have already signed a petition for the UK to let her into the country. 

Qunun had been vacationing with her family in Kuwait last week when she ran away and boarded a plane to Bangkok en route to Australia, according to NPR. Thai security stopped her by the request of the Saudi embassy, proceeded to take her passport, and held her in a hotel room. Officials were planning to send her back to Kuwait until she received international press attention from the social media account updating her situation. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, took Qunun under its protection Monday. 

The Saudi teen claims her family became abusive when she renounced Islam. Under Saudi Arabia’s Islamic male guardianship system, women require approval from a male relative for basic rights like enrolling in school, working, traveling, and more. 

Qunun’s brother and father, a senior government official, went to the Bangkok airport once they heard the news but she has not wanted to see them. 

Read More: Saudi Arabian Women Are Wearing Their Clothes Inside Out to Protest Dress Codes

"She said she has made a decision to renounce Islam. And I knew once she said that, she is in serious trouble," Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, told Reuters. 

Renouncing Islam in Saudi Arabia can be punishable by death. 

Despite the circumstances, Australia’s home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, told reporters there would be “no special treatment” for Qunun.

Politicians like Australian Greens senator, Sarah Hanson-Young, is uring the government to act fast on Qunun’s entry status. “It is time to bring this courageous young woman to Australia to start her life as a free woman,” she told the Guardian.

A UNHCR spokesperson told the Guardian Qunun will remain safe under their watch while her case is processed. 

Saudi women who stand up against the country’s oppressive laws under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have experienced serious consequences. Despite progress like the lifted decades-long driving ban, dozens of rights activists have been detained and tortured

While people around the world have shown support for Qunun, some Saudi Arabians have criticized her choice. 

“She is a young Saudi woman whose face has been plastered around the world,” Director of Human Rights Watch Elaine Pearson told the Guardian. “She’s more at risk than other refugees, not just from her family but threats she has faced online and from her own government.”