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Australia praises Thai action on Saudi woman seeking asylum

11 January 2019

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

Australian authorities are weighing a young Saudi woman's asylum claim at unusual speed, several lawyers and legal experts have told AFP, contrasting her high-profile plight with a normally-excruciatingly slow system.

The 18-year-old (pictured) reacted to news Australia is considering granting her asylum, saying, "Is it true???" Alqunun claims her life would be in grave danger if she were returned to Saudi Arabia and her family would kill her.

"We want to show the world, women can be free and safe and should be able to express ourselves freely and safely", Love said.

She arrived in Thailand on Saturday and was initially denied entry.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne, on a scheduled visit to Bangkok to meet her Thai counterpart, told reporters Australia was "engaged in the steps of the assessment process of Miss Al-Qunun as required".

She told The Guardian she would "advocate for the safe return to Australia of Mr Hakeem Alaraibi, who is now detained in Thailand".

Al-Qunun barricaded herself in her hotel room in the Bangkok airport after authorities tried to remove her from her room. Thailand's chief of immigration police, Surachate Hakparn, has said his country will not deport her to possible death.

It praised Thailand for its actions in Ms Qunun's case, but said the country had not treated other asylum-seekers in the same responsible manner.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun was allowed to enter Thailand temporarily under the protection of the United Nations refugee agency on Monday after successfully resisting deportation.

The United Nations ruled on Wednesday Ms al-Qunun was a refugee and referred her case to Australia, with the government now considering granting her asylum.

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The department is considering the request "in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals", the spokesperson said.

The process could yet slow down as Australia conducts medical, security and background checks.

Al-Araibi has said he was blindfolded and had his legs beaten while he was held in Bahrain in 2012.

Sarah Dale - the principal solicitor for the Sydney-based Refugee Advice and Casework Service, which, in the last year, helped 3,300 refugees - said many of her clients have waited months and years while the wheels of justice ground slowly.

Ms al-Qunun is now in the care of United Nations officials and under the protection of Thai police. Thailand Immigration Police chief Lt. Gen. Surachate Hakparn said the father - whose name has not been released - denied physically abusing Alqunun or trying to force her into an arranged marriage, which were among the reasons she gave for her flight.

'He said that he has been taking good care of his daughter, he never forced her or hurt her. He said that in Saudia Arabia there is an agency that enforces the law [against abuse], and he certainly couldn't do anything illegal, ' General Surachate said.

"He has 10 children. He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes", General Surachate said. But he didn't go into detail'.

Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun (centre) is escorted by a Thai Immigration Chief Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn (right) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials at Suvarnabhumi global airport in Bangkok on Monday. "I'm happy", alongside a heart and praying hands emoji.

She then added in a separate post: "Don't let anyone break your wings, you're free. fight and get your RIGHTS!', followed by a post in Arabic which read, 'I made it".

"Shorten did write to the prime minister on Tuesday indicating that if she had a valid claim we support their efforts to offer her settlement in Australia".

Australia praises Thai action on Saudi woman seeking asylum