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Australia FM visits Thailand amid Saudi asylum seeker saga

AFP  |  Bangkok 

Australia's met her Thai counterpart Thursday, as her country appeared poised to offer to asylum to a young Saudi woman who fled her family to in a drama relayed in real-time over

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun's attempt to flee the ultra-conservative kingdom has become a cause celebre for rights groups since the 18-year-old landed in from over the weekend.

Thai authorities had threatened to deport her but with the help of activists, diplomats and a hastily opened account Qunun launched an impassioned campaign for asylum.

As global interest surged, Thai authorities backed down from the deportation threat, handing her into the care of (UNHCR) in Bangkok, which has urged to offer resettlement.

Payne's scheduled visit comes after dropped strong hints it would accept Qunun.

on Wednesday said the UNHCR had studied her case and designated her as a legitimate refugee.

Qunun alleges abuse by her family, while rights groups also said she had renounced Islam, risking prosecution in conservative

Her father, who denies mistreating her, will remain in "until he knows which country she is going to", Thailand's told reporters Thursday.

The Saudi embassy in has said it did not demand the teenager's deportation and that the case was a family affair. has come under fire since the murder of in the country's consulate in last year.

In a statement ahead of her trip, Payne did not mention Qunun's case. But she said she would lobby for the return of former Bahraini national Hakeem Alaraibi, who was granted refugee status in after fleeing a crackdown during the Arab Spring.

He is wanted in on charges linked to rioting, which he denies. Alaraibi was detained in Bangkok in November while trying to go on vacation with his wife.

Qunun's case has revived interest in the plight of the footballer, who has been held in detention since his arrival in

"The Thai authorities did the right thing by a young Saudi woman in agreeing not to forcibly remove her and pledged to respect the rule of law," Human Rights Watch's Australia said Thursday.

But it also needs to realise the dangers facing the Alaraibi, she added.

Thailand, which is a not a signatory to the UN's code on protecting the rights of refugees, has repeatedly faced fierce criticism for detaining or sending back people with asylum claims to repressive regimes.

Australia has also come under fire for re-routing migrants attempting to arrive by boat to offshore island camps.

appears to have played a decisive role in helping Qunun avoid being sent back to a family she accuses of abusing her.

In less than a week Qunun -- and supporters who helped manage her account -- have racked up 124,000 followers.

"Don't let anyone break your wings, you're free," she tweeted late Wednesday.

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

First Published: Thu, January 10 2019. 16:20 IST
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