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 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.
You are the real power help me to send my message, I need PROTECTION . #savemylife— Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد (@rahaf84427714) January 8, 2019
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.
"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.
“Rahaf al-Qunun-mark my words,is going to start a revolution in Saudi Arabia.Go on social media now & watch accounts of so many young Saudis saying,“Rahaf,you’ve shown us,that we can do this! Rahaf, you have shown us,that we deserve to be free”— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) January 8, 2019
“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.”