Australia foreign minister visits Thailand amid Saudi asylum seeker saga

Remigio Civitarese
Gennaio 11, 2019

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, arrived in Thailand from Kuwait after fleeing her family, who she says subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

But al-Qunun's savvy use of Twitter throughout her ordeal at Bangkok airport, including tweeting videos of her barricading herself in a hotel room, galvanised a global campaign and calls for her to be granted asylum.

The UNHCR has now referred al-Qunun's case to Australia, requesting she be considered for refugee resettlement, a Department of Home Affairs in Australia spokesperson confirmed to ABC News.

She said a Saudi diplomat met her at the airport when she arrived in Bangkok and tricked her into handing over her passport and ticket, saying he would secure a visa.

Ms Qunun is now in the care of the UN's refugee agency in Bangkok, which is processing her case.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne speaks to the press at the Australian embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, January 10, 2019.

He said her father, who has flown to Thailand with her brother to try and lobby for her return, was the equivalent of a municipal mayor in the highly conservative Saudi Arabian province Ha'il.

Shahad added Ms al-Qunun "thought it was not a risky place" and said the friends had "bought her a ticket to Australia from Thailand but she didn't listen to us".

She has attracted interest worldwide, particularly in Australia.

Meanwhile, a small group of Australian women held a 45-minute topless protest at the Saudi Arabia consulate general near Martin Place earlier on Thursday.

Former Socceroo Craig Foster has organised a protest rally in support of Hakeem at Sydney Opera House at 12.30pm today.

Australia on Wednesday said the UNHCR had studied her case and designated her as a legitimate refugee. It said her case had inspired millions and should remind people of the bravery and sacrifices of people who flee their native lands for safety.

Her father has denied physically abusing her or trying to force her into an arranged marriage, among the reasons she gave for her flight, Thailand's immigration police chief said after meeting him on Wednesday. Surachate described the father as being a governor in Saudi Arabia.

"Her father is relieved that she is safe", Gen Surachate said, adding that the "UNHCR will find a third country that will accept her in two days".

"We are, as I've said, very concerned about his detention, very concerned about any potential for return of Mr.al-Araibi to Bahrain".

Alaraibi was convicted in absentia on charges of vandalising a police station in Bahrain, but says he was out of the country playing in a match at the time of the alleged offence. Bahrain is seeking his extradition.

She said she raised Australia's concerns about the case with Thailand's deputy prime minister and foreign minister.

Al-Araibi, who now plays for Melbourne's Pascoe Vale Football Club, has been publicly critical of the Bahrain royal family's alleged involvement in sports scandals, which puts him at risk of punishment by the Bahraini government. "I do note that there are legal proceedings underway in relation to Mr.al-Araibi, and Australia will continue to be in very close contact with Thai authorities in relation to this". He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active.

Elaine Pearson, director of...

Bahrain, which is a close ally of Britain and hosts the U.S. navy's Fifth Fleet, has been the scene of a low-level insurgency ever since a failed uprising inspired by 2011's Arab spring. He is obligated to do everything in his power to advocate, both privately and publicly, and to use the enormous leverage that football has, with the Bahrain government, his own government, he's a Bahrainian national, and also with the Thai government to release Hakeem.

After commending FIFA, soccer's world governing body, and Australia's Football Federation for supporting al-Araibi's release, Foster criticized the Asian Football Confederation and its head, Salman al-Khalifa.

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