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UN asks Australia to consider Saudi teen for 'refugee resettlement'

AFP  |  Bangkok 

The UN has said an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family is a legitimate and has asked to resettle her, said Wednesday, as the Twitter-led campaign to grant her asylum edged towards resolution.

was stopped by authorities at Bangkok's main airport as she arrived on a flight from at the weekend after running away from her family, who she says subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

initially said it would deport her at the request of officials, barring her from travelling on to where Qunun said she had intended to claim asylum.

But armed with a phone, she barricaded herself into an airside hotel room and fought back -- live-tweeting her fears of deportation in a campaign that swiftly galvanised international support and prompted a sharp U-turn by Thai officials.

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

"The UNHCR has referred Ms to for consideration for resettlement," confirmed in a statement. The department said it would "consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals".

Australian officials have strongly hinted that Qunun's request will be accepted.

"If she is found to be a refugee, then we will give very, very, very serious consideration to a humanitarian visa," had said before the UN determination was public.

Qunun's desperate tweets ricocheted across with the #SaveRahaf hashtag drawing an outpouring of support but also the bile of some hardliners in her native country. She only joined the site at the start of this month but has quickly racked up more than 100,000 followers.

of said Qunun had renounced Islam, which puts her at "serious risk" of prosecution in

Her father and brother arrived in on Tuesday, but Qunun "refused to see" them, according to Thai Surachate Hakparn, who has been caught up in the international firestorm since Qunun's arrival.

The father met with the UNHCR Wednesday morning and spoke with Surachate in the afternoon for an hour, the said at a press conference.

He denied abusing or threatening her, and told Surachate that Qunun had "freedom".

"He wants to take his daughter back home, her mother fell sick after hearing her daughter ran away," Surachate said.

Qunun's father told the UNHCR about his objections to her fleeing and would remain in until a decision was made, Surachate said, adding that this might come on Thursday. A UNHCR told AFP "the process is still ongoing".

On Sunday Qunun told AFP her family was "abusive" and once locked her in a room for six months just for cutting her hair.

Fleeing them while travelling in throws her into conflict with Saudi Arabia's "guardianship" system, which allows male family members to make decisions on behalf of female relatives, she said. That makes it "100 percent" certain she would be killed by her family if she was returned to Saudi, she added.

Footage released by Thai immigration shows Abdulilah al-Shouaibi, charge d'affaires in Bangkok, complaining in a meeting Tuesday with Surachate that Qunun's should have been confiscated.

"When she arrived, she open a new (Twitter) account and her followers grew to 45,000 in one day," he said in Arabic.

"It would have been better if they had confiscated her mobile instead of her passport."

The in said it "did not demand her deportation" and that the case was "a family affair".

By Wednesday afternoon, Qunun had returned to posting updates on Twitter, promising to "broadcast continuously to assure" the public of her condition.

"I have prepared my strength and will continue my journey to reach a safe country," she tweeted in Arabic. "Don't let anyone break your wings, you're free," she tweeted in English.

"fight and get your RIGHTS!" Amnesty International's Middle of campaigns said Rahaf's story "became an inspiration to millions worldwide", but added that has often "breached their responsibilities" to asylum seekers and refugees.

"The humanity shown to Rahaf must not be a one-off," said Hadid.

Ultra-conservative has come under fire since the murder of in the country's consulate in last year.

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

First Published: Wed, January 09 2019. 21:05 IST