Police: Canada, Australia willing to accept Saudi woman

Police: Canada, Australia willing to accept Saudi woman

Twitter account close after 'death threats'

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun (right) walks with an unidentified companion in Bangkok on Friday. (AP photo)
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun (right) walks with an unidentified companion in Bangkok on Friday. (AP photo)

Several countries including Canada and Australia are in talks with the UN refugee agency to accept a Saudi asylum seeker who fled alleged abuse from her family, police said Friday.

Immigration chief Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn told reporters the UN was accelerating the case, though he gave no indication of when the process would be complete.

"Her physical and mental health is good," Pol Lt Gen Surachate told reporters.

"We should know by this evening which country she'll be going to," he said.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun was stopped at a Bangkok airport on Saturday by Thai immigration police who denied her entry and seized her passport.

While barricading herself in an airport hotel room, the 18-year-old launched a social media campaign that drew global attention to her case and enough public and diplomatic support to convince Thai officials to admit her temporarily under the protection of UN officials.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees eventually granted her refugee status on Wednesday.

Ms Qunun's case has highlighted the cause of women's rights in Saudi Arabia. Several female Saudis fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home. Human rights activists say many similar cases have gone unreported.

Ms Qunun has said on her Twitter account that she wishes to seek refuge in Australia.

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with senior Thai officials in Bangkok on Thursday. She later told reporters that Australia assessing Ms Qunun's request for resettlement, but there was no specific timeframe.

Ms Payne said she also raised Australia's concerns with Thai officials about Hakeem al-Araibi, a 25-year-old former member of Bahrain's national soccer team, who was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017 after fleeing his homeland, where he said he was persecuted and tortured.

Mr Araibi’s case is being considered by Thailand's justice system, she said.

Ms Qunan reportedly deleted her Twitter account on Friday after getting death threats, a friend said, while she awaited a decision on where she might be granted asylum.

After being stopped in Bangkok, she started posting messages on Twitter from the transit area at Suvarnabhumi airport saying she had "escaped Kuwait" and her life would be in danger if forced to return to Saudi Arabia.

Within hours, a campaign sprang up dubbed #SaveRahaf, spread on Twitter by a loose network of activists.

Around mid-day on Friday, her Twitter account, @rahaf84427714, went offline after she posted that she had "bad and good news!"

The account reappeared briefly about an hour later but went offline again within minutes.

A Twitter user known as Nourah, whom Ms Qunun has referred to as a friend, tweeted that Ms Qunun "received death threats and for this reason she closed her Twitter account".

Ms Qunun, who is staying in Bangkok at an undisclosed location and was not available for comment, had earlier said on Twitter she had been receiving death threats from a relative on the social media platform.

Sophie McNeill, an Australia Broadcast Corp journalist who has had direct contact with Ms Qunun, said the teenager was "safe and fine" but was taking a short break from Twitter.

"She's just been receiving a lot of death threats," Ms McNeill said on Twitter.

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