The UN says a Saudi teen who fled her male guardians is a refugee

Thank you.
Thank you.
Image: Thailand Immigration Police
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

After winning the fight against deportation from Thailand, the 18-year-old Saudi Arabian woman who fled her family in search of asylum in Australia has been given refugee status by the United Nations.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun is currently under the protection of UN officials in Thailand, after she was detained in Bangkok airport while on a layover from Kuwait to Australia on Monday (Jan. 7), where her passport was confiscated by Saudi and Kuwaiti officials. Canberra said that she would have to go through the usual background checks before being granted a humanitarian visa.

Thai authorities had initially planned to deport al-Qunun back to Kuwait, but she barricaded herself in the hotel room where she was being detained, thereby managing to avoid boarding the flight. Al-Qunun, who has been communicating to the world through Twitter (with help from her friends), said she fled her family because they were physically and pyschologically abusive to her, and that she feared for her life if she was sent back to Saudi Arabia. Under the kingdom’s guardianship rules, a woman’s husband or male family members act as her custodian, and have ultimate say over what she can do and where she can go. Even as adults, women need permission from male guardians to travel out of the country.

Australia’s government has yet to announce that it will officially grant al-Qunun asylum, but the UN’s decision comes just ahead of a pre-planned visit by the country’s foreign minister Marisa Payne to Thailand, where she is expected to discuss another human-rights issue, the detention of Bahraini soccer player Hakeem Alaraibi in Bangkok, who has been granted refugee status in Australia.

In 2017, Dina Ali Lasloom, a 24-year-old Saudi woman, also tried to flee from Kuwait to Australia, but was arrested in the Philippines while in transit. She was deported to Saudi Arabia and her current whereabouts are unknown.