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Runaway Saudi teen may be able to live in Australia

Hopeful: Ms al-Qunun in Bangkok PICTURE: AP

A SAUDI teenager who fled her family may be allowed to move to Australia after the UN agreed she is a refugee.

The country’s home affairs department confirmed yesterday it would consider 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who is currently in Thailand, for settlement.

Ms al-Qunun was trying to fly to Australia via Thailand to seek asylum when she was detained in Bangkok last Saturday. She refused to board a flight back to Kuwait, barricading herself in a hotel room and using social media to publicise her plight. She said she would be killed if she were sent back to her family as she has renounced Islam — a message that gained her thousands of supporters as well as the attention of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Australia’s home affairs department said it would ‘consider this referral in the usual way’, but comments from health minister Greg Hunt suggested Ms al-Qunun would be given a sympathetic hearing. Before the UN decision, he said if she were found to be a refugee, ‘we will give very, very, very serious consideration to a humanitarian visa’.

The case has again highlighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. In recent years several Saudi women fleeing abuse from families have been caught and returned home.

Ms al-Qunun alleged that Saudi officials were involved in seizing her passport. However, the Saudi embassy in Bangkok repeatedly stated it was only monitoring her situation.