BANGKOK - The ordeal of Saudi Arabian refugee Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun continues for now, with Australia’s foreign minister telling reporters in Bangkok Thursday no asylum deal had been reached yet.
Al-Qunun, who barricaded herself in a hotel at Bangkok airport to prevent officials from deporting her after fleeing her family in Kuwait, has been granted refugee status by the United Nations refugee office and is hoping to receive asylum in Australia.
The 18-year-old Saudi refugee has said her family would kill her if she were forced back and there had been hopes Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s visit to Thailand might signal a breakthrough on her asylum case.
“There is no possibility that Ms. al-Qunun will be going back with me, as you put it, today,” she told reporters at the Australian Embassy in Bangkok. “That is because there are steps which are required in the process which Australia and any other country considering such a matter would have to go through. We will go through those according to our own system and our own process,” she said.
She commended Thailand for referring al-Qunun’s case to the UNHCR and reiterated that Australia was now engaged in the assessment process of her asylum claim as required.
When pressed if Australia had cancelled al-Qunun’s visa after she was arrested, Payne declined to comment.
After learning of the UNHCR’s decision to grant her refugee status on Wednesday al-Qunun’s twitter account tweeted: “Don’t let anyone break your wings, you’re free. fight and get your RIGHTS!”
Al-Qunun has told AFP her family subjected her to psychological and physical abuse and would kill her if she returned. Thailand's chief of immigration police, Surachate Hakparn, has said his country will not deport her to possible death.
During her trip, Payne met with her Thai counterpart, Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.
She said she had also raised the case with him of Australian permanent resident Hakeem al-Araibi, who was arrested in Bangkok more than a month ago over an Interpol Red Notice warrant issued by Bahrain — the country he fled as a refugee.
“The Thai government is most certainly aware of the importance of this matter to Australia. I do note that there are legal proceedings underway in relation to Mr. al-Araibi and Australia will continue to be in very close contact with Thai authorities in relation to this,” she said. “We are, as I’ve said, very concerned about his detention, very concerned about any potential for return of Mr. al-Araibi to Bahrain.”
Al-Araibi, a professional footballer, was arrested while on holiday in Thailand with his wife.
In 2014 Bahrain sentenced him in absentia to 10 years for allegedly vandalizing a police station.
He denies the charge and was granted refugee status in Australia in November 2017.
Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson commended Thailand in their decision not to send al-Qunun back to Saudi Arabia.
He said her father, who has flown to Thailand with her brother to try and lobby for her return, was the equivalent of a municipal mayor in the highly conservative Saudi Arabian province Ha’il.
“And actually his tribe is one of the largest tribes in Saudi Arabia, so it’s quite influential and she certainly would have faced grievous physical harm and perhaps death if she had been sent back based on what I’ve been told by our researcher and others,” he said.
But he wondered why the same treatment had not been afforded to al-Araibi.
“Because this guy is a refugee, he’s been recognized by the Australian government and was pretty much on the cusp of actually getting his citizenship,” he said.
“So it’s surprising that on one hand you have the very quick and welcome action on this case of Rahaf, but on the case of Hakeem it’s still stuck based on a Bahrain request to Thailand to send him back to a situation where he would certainly face imprisonment, torture and worse.”