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Saudi woman deemed a refugee and formally considered for resettlement

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun has been found to be a refugee.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun has been found to be a refugee. Photo: AAP
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A Saudi Arabian woman, 18, has been deemed a refugee and is being considered for asylum in Australia, after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok hotel room to avoid being deported to her family.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun’s asylum claim was deemed to be genuine on Wednesday by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which referred her to Australia to be considered for resettlement.

“The Department of Home Affairs will consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals,” Home Affairs said on Wednesday.

“The government will be making no further comment on this matter.”

She will be subject to the normal security clearances.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said it was good news the UNHCR had worked to quickly process her claim.

“It is now time for Australia to welcome her, where she can live as a young woman with the freedom to study and work and be treated as an equal without fear,” Senator Hanson-Young said on Twitter.

Australian director of Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, said she hoped the government would move quickly to offer her a humanitarian visa and bring her to Australia.

Ms Alqunun’s case received international attention after she live-tweeted from inside a Suvarnabhumi Airport hotel room.

She said her passport was taken off her and officials attempted to forcibly return her to her family, who Ms Alqunun said would kill her.

An unverified video shared on Twitter on Wednesday purported to show a diplomat from the Saudi embassy in Bangkok suggesting her mobile phone should have been confiscated instead of her passport because it allowed her to gain global interest over social media.

The New Daily made multiple calls to the embassy but staff would not verify or rubbish the legitimacy of the video.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on Wednesday warned there would be no special treatment for Ms Alqunun and said it was imperative Australia’s border protection regime remained strong.

Her father and brother landed in the capital on Tuesday evening and immediately asked to see Ms Alqunun.

Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said the men would have to wait to learn whether the UN’s refugee agency would give them permission.

“The father and brother want to go and talk to Rahaf, but the UN will need to approve such talk,” Mr Surachate told reporters.

Human Rights Watch deputy director for Asia Phil Robertson said the arrival in Thailand of Ms Alqunun’s father was a source of concern.

“We have no idea what he is going to do … whether he will try to find out where she is and go harass her,” he said.

Ms Alqunun said she was fleeing domestic abuse, including beatings and death threats.

The 18-year-old denounced Islam but said she was forced to practise, and had been kept in her room for six months for cutting her hair.

Saudi authorities have denied calling for Ms Alqunun to be deported and said the issue is a family matter.

The Morrison government on Tuesday night said it had made representations to make sure her UNHCR claim was expedited because of “serious concerns” about her situation.

Ms Alqunun had been travelling to Australia on a three-month tourist visa when she was stopped during her stopover in Bangkok.

There were rumours on Tuesday her tourist visa had been cancelled, but the government revealed hours later it would consider her for a humanitarian visa.

-with AAP

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