Twitter-led campaign to grant Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun asylum edges towards resolution
The UN has said an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family is a legitimate refugee and has asked Australia to resettle her, Canberra said Wednesday, as the Twitter-led campaign to grant her asylum edged towards resolution.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun was stopped by authorities at Bangkok's main airport as she arrived on a flight from Kuwait on the weekend after running away from her family, who she says subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.
Thailand initially said it would deport her at the request of Saudi embassy officials, barring her from travelling on to Australia 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 refugee agency in Bangkok, which is processing her case.
"The UNHCR has referred Ms Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement," Australia's Department of Home Affairs confirmed in a statement.
The department said it will "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," health minister Greg Hunt had said before the UN determination was public.
Qunun's desperate tweets ricocheted across social media with the #SaveRahaf hashtag drawing an outpouring of support but also the bile of some hardliners in her native country.
She only joined the social media site at the start of this month but has quickly racked up more than 100,000 followers.
Her father and brother arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday, but Qunun "refused to see" them, according to Thai immigration police chief Surachate Hakparn, who has been caught up in the international firestorm since Qunun's arrival.
He said the family's patriarch had met with the UNHCR on Wednesday morning and will return to "her country" later today.
"Her father is relieved that she is safe," Surachate said, adding that the "UNHCR will find a third country that will accept her in two days".
A UNHCR representative told AFP "the process is still ongoing".