Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun: Saudi teenager who fled family granted United Nations refugee status

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Eighteen-year-old Rahaf al-Qanun on Saturday launched a call for help via Twitter from a Bangkok airport where her passport was initially confiscated. It said: "I am the girl who escaped Kuwait to Thailand".

In 2017, a young Saudi woman Dina Ali Lasloom was forcibly returned to her homeland after she was detained at Manila airport in the Philippines, and has since reportedly disappeared.

"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not asked for her extradition", the country's embassy said in a tweet.

"Everybody was watching. When social media works, this is what happens", said Mr Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, of the global outcry.

Throughout the ordeal, Ms al-Qunun pleaded for assistance on social media and has amassed more than 100,000 Twitter followers.

In a since-deleted tweet, Ms Qunun's friends spoke about her concern for her 11-year-old sister's welfare. The arrival "scared me a lot", she said Monday on Twitter.

Alqunun said her male guardian had reported her for travelling "without his permission".

While Surachate claimed Alqunun never had a visa to enter Australia, Human Rights Watch's Australian director, Elaine Pearson, said she had seen electronic confirmation of the visa, shown by Alqunun to HRW's Asia deputy director, Phil Robertson.

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"She said very clearly that she has suffered both physical and psychological abuse". "She very clearly stated that she was unhappy with Islam". She told the world defiantly: "I'm real and exist".

At around the same time, journalist McNeill chose to fly to Thailand and try to meet Ms Qunun. "For me, it was so important that this was documented, and I wanted to be there and witness it".

"I'm [sic] rahaf mohmed, formally seeking a refugee status to any country that would protect me from getting harmed or killed due to leaving my religion and torture from my family", she said in a Twitter post dated January 6 from a hotel room at Bangkok Airport where she had barricaded herself in.

But Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakpan said the men would have to wait to learn whether the UN's refugee agency would allow the request.

"She filmed these two people talking to her", said Mr Robertson. And if all else failed and she was forced on the Kuwait Airways jet, an activist in India was ready with a "bomb scare" tweet to stop the flight from leaving. It said the embassy is not communicating with the teenager, but is communicating with Thai authorities.

"Al-Qunun says she doesn't want to meet with her father or brother".

"We have no idea what he is going to do. whether he will try to find out where she is and go harass her".

"We were inside the room and there were numerous people coming to the door".

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The flight to Kuwait City left without Ms Qunun.

However, Thai immigration police at the airport revealed that she had no air ticket to Australia.

"It could take several days to process the case and determine the next steps", he said in the statement.

A UNHCR representative told AFP "the process is still ongoing".

Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters that Qunun's father and brother had arrived in Thailand on Tuesday.

While there has been a groundswell of support for Qunun to be granted refugee status and resettled in Australia, Peter Dutton, a hardliner in Australia's conservative government, said: "There is no special circumstance for anybody in this situation".

But on Tuesday, the Thai immigration office released a video clip of its officials meeting Saudi diplomats to discuss the case.

Instead, they confirmed she would have been refused entry to Australia as the visa was not reflective of her intended stay in the country.

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