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UN Refugee Agency Refers Runaway Saudi Woman to Australia for Resettlement

Immigration chief Maj-Gen Surachate Hakparn address media at Suvarnabhumi Airport where Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun has barricaded herself inside a hotel room in Bangkok, Jan. 7, 2019.

The United Nations refugee agency has determined that an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled to Thailand is a refugee, and has asked Australia to grant her residence.

Australia's Department of Homeland Security said it will consider the request made by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to resettle Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun.

Al-Qunun arrived in Bangkok last Saturday on a flight from Kuwait after running away from her family, claiming they would kill her if she were sent back.

After she was initially denied entry into Thailand, she barricaded herself in an airport hotel room and posted pictures and texts of herself on Twitter, drawing global attention to her plight. The attention prompted Thai immigration authorities to reverse their earlier decision to send her back to Saudi Arabia.

Thai immigration police chief Surachate Hakparn says Al-Qunun's father and brother arrived in Bangkok Tuesday, but she refused to meet with them.

Surachate discussed al-Qunun's case Tuesday with Abdealelah Alsheaiby, the charge d'affaires of Saudi's embassy in Bangkok. Video footage released by the Thai immigration office shows Alsheaiby complaining that it would have been better if Bangkok had seized al-Qunun's smartphone instead of her passport -- a remark which drew angry protests on social media.

Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has come under heavy scrutiny since the brutal murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year at its consulate in Turkey. The ultra-conservative kingdom has strict restrictions on women, including a requirement that they must have the permission of male family members to travel.