Father of Saudi asylum seeker wants to meet her

Ms Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun is in Bangkok while the UNHCR processes her application for refugee status.
Ms Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun is in Bangkok while the UNHCR processes her application for refugee status.

But Thai authorities say he and brother of the teen, who says family wants to kill her, must await UN approval

BANGKOK • The father of a Saudi teenager who fled to Thailand, fearing her family will kill her, has arrived in Bangkok and wants to meet his daughter, Thailand's immigration chief said yesterday.

But the father and brother of Ms Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, will have to wait and see whether the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will allow them to see her, according to Police Lieutenant-General Surachate Hakpan, the Thai immigration chief.

He told reporters: "The father and brother want to go and talk to Rahaf, but the UN will need to approve that."

The UN refugee agency yesterday said it was investigating the teenager's case after she fled to Thailand saying she feared her family would kill her if she were sent back to Saudi Arabia, for renouncing Islam.

Activists are concerned about what Riyadh will do after Bangkok reversed a decision to expel her and allowed Ms Qunun - who is seeking asylum - to enter the country under the UNHCR's care.

Mr Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch's deputy director for Asia, said: "The father is now here in Thailand and that's a source of concern. We have no idea what he is going to do... and whether he will try to find out where she is and go harass her. We don't know whether he is going to try to get the embassy to do that."

Lawmakers and activists in Australia and Britain have urged their governments to grant asylum to Ms Qunun, who was finally allowed by Thailand to enter the country on Monday, after being stranded for nearly 48 hours at Bangkok airport under threat of being expelled.

 
 
 

She is staying in a Bangkok hotel while the UNHCR processes her application for refugee status before she can seek asylum in a third country. UNHCR staff interviewed her yesterday.

"It could take several days to process the case and determine the next steps," said the UNHCR's Thailand representative Giuseppe de Vincentiis in a statement.

"We are very grateful that the Thai authorities did not send Rahaf back against her will and are extending protection to her," he said.

The teen claimed she was abducted after arriving in Bangkok and had her passport confiscated by Saudi Arabian diplomatic staff.

Ms Qunun's plight unfolded on social media, drawing support from around the world. It convinced the Thai authorities to back down from sending her back to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia's embassy in Thailand denied reports that Riyadh had requested her extradition.

The Thai immigration chief on Monday said the embassy had alerted the authorities to the case, and said the woman had run away from her parents and they feared for her safety.

In Australia, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young made a call on social media for her government to issue the teenager with an emergency travel document so she could fly to the country to seek asylum.

The Australian government said it was monitoring the case.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was deeply concerned about "the claims made by Rahaf, that she may be harmed if returned to Saudi Arabia".

Meanwhile, a woman in Britain has launched an online petition calling on Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to grant the teen asylum and issue her an emergency travel document. Within hours, the petition had secured thousands of signatures.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2019, with the headline 'Father of Saudi asylum seeker wants to meet her'. Print Edition | Subscribe