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Australia considering resettlement for runaway Saudi woman

AP  |  Bangkok 

will assess Saudi woman for settlement after the on Wednesday deemed her a refugee.

The confirmed in a statement that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had referred 18-year-old Alqunun to for consideration for refugee settlement.

Alqunun arrived in on a flight from on Saturday, and planned to continue to Australia, for which she held a tourist visa.

But after being detained by Thai authorities, she refused to board a flight back to Kuwait, barricading herself in a hotel room.

After publicising her case via social media, saying she feared for her safety if made to return home to her family, she was placed in the care of UNHCR workers as her bid for refugee status was considered, leading to her referral to on Wednesday afternoon.

"The UNHCR has referred Ms to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement," said, adding it would "consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals."

Indications from suggest Alqunun may receive a sympathetic hearing.

Before the UNHCR's referral, said Australia would consider giving Alqunun a humanitarian visa if the UNHCR process found her to be a refugee.

"Pending the outcome of that, if she is found to be a refugee, then we will give very, very, very serious consideration to a humanitarian visa," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Alqunun's case has again highlighted the cause of women's rights in

Several female Saudi runaways fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home.

Human rights activists say many more similar cases will have gone unreported.

In Bangkok, Thailand's immigration Maj Gen said that Alqunun's father and brother arrived together in on Tuesday but Alqunun refused to meet them.

Surachate discussed her case on Tuesday with Saudi Charge d'Affaires in Abdalelah Mohammed A Alsheaiby.

In a video clip of the meeting released by Thai immigration police, Alsheaiby is heard telling Thai officials: "From the moment she arrived, she opened a new account and her followers reached almost 45,000 in a day.

And I would have preferred it better if her phone was taken instead of her passport."

The comments sparked anger on

Surachate said that police could not confiscate her phone because she was not being detained and said that the Saudi diplomat's remark was "just an opinion" and "nothing to be taken seriously".

After Alqunun barricaded herself in her hotel room, her pleas for help over garnered tens of thousands of followers, and the attention of the UNHCR.

Public pressure prompted Thai officials to return her passport and let her temporarily stay in

Alqunun alleged several times that Saudi officials were involved in seizing her passport.

However, in repeated statements, including one issued Tuesday, the said it was only monitoring her situation.

Its latest statement, which described Alqunun's case as a "family affair," said did not demand her deportation back home.

The embassy and Thai officials earlier also said that Alqunun was stopped by Thai authorities in Bangkok because she did not have a return ticket, a hotel reservation or itinerary to show she was a tourist, which appeared to have raised a red flag about the reasons for her trip.

Saudi Arabia's wider human rights record has also come under intense scrutiny since the killing of Saudi in October.

Khashoggi, who wrote critically of in columns for The Washington Post, had been living in self-imposed exile before he was killed and dismembered inside the in Istanbul by Saudi agents.

The kingdom offered various shifting accounts of the circumstances of his death before eventually settling on the explanation that he died in a botched operation to forcibly bring him back to

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, January 09 2019. 14:00 IST