Australian minister hints Saudi teen likely to get asylum

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Had there been no Twitter, it can safely be assumed, Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, an 18-year old Saudi woman who fled her family, country and religion could have been dead.

Noura, one of four friends tweeting from Ms Mohammed al-Qunun's account, told the BBC they knew each other from an online group for Saudi feminists, and that she herself had "escaped" Saudi Arabia because she is "an ex-Muslim".

In a brief statement, Australia's Department of Home Affairs said it would "consider this referral in the usual way".

Qunun is staying in a Bangkok hotel while the UNHCR processes her application for refugee status, before she can seek asylum in a third country.

Ms Al-Qunun had planned to enter Australia on a tourist visa and seek asylum before she was detained by Thai authorities on Sunday. But as her desperate calls for help quickly attracted human rights campaigners and United Nations refugee staffers intervened, they promised not to deport her.

"Because this is a high profile case and because she has a lot of support from the global community, I think it is very possible that this could end very quickly", said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"She is now under the sovereignty of Thailand; no-one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere", he said. Gen. Surachate Hakparn said in a statement that Al-Qunun's father and brother were due to arrive in Thailand today but that it was her right to decide whether to talk to them or not.

The Australian Government says it is monitoring the case closely."The claims made by Ms Al-Qunun that she may be harmed if returned to Saudi Arabia are deeply concerning".

Qunun posted dozens of tweets and live videos in English and Arabic, some describing how she had barricaded herself in a hotel room.

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Saudi Arabia's embassy in Thailand has denied reports that Riyadh had requested the extradition of a young Saudi women seeking asylum in Thailand, the embassy said on Twitter.

"If she goes home it will be unsafe for her so Thailand is ready to help", General Surachate Hakparn, the head of Thailand's immigration police, told the media.

"Only she can make that choice, she's an adult woman who can make her own decisions", Robertson wrote. "We will not send anyone to die".

Saudi Arabia enforces male guardianship laws, which require that women, regardless of age, have the consent of a male relative - usually a father or husband - to travel, obtain a passport or marry.

Alqunun's Twitter account has attracted tens of thousands of followers in less than 48 hours and her story grabbed the attention of governments, activists and well-known figures all over the world.

Speaking to Reuters via text and audio messages she alleged her family had threatened to kill her.

Ms Alqunun ran away from a family trip to Kuwait last week and flew to Thailand in the hope of reaching Australia to seek asylum.

Saudi Arabia's human rights record has been under heavy scrutiny since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi previous year.

Although Canadian officials said diplomats routinely raise human rights issues with their Saudi counterparts, the Saudi government reacted strongly to the public appeal and retaliated by freezing new trade, recalling its students from Canada and cancelling flights between the two countries. She was forced to return to Saudi Arabia and was not publicly heard from again, according to activists tracking her whereabouts.

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