‘Under UN’s care’: Saudi woman ‘rescued’ from deportation after social media storm

Saudi Runaway Woman

A young Saudi woman is asking for Canada's help after tweets about her efforts to flee abuse and seek asylum overseas put her in the global spotlight.

But she has said Saudi officials tried to trick her and surrounded the hotel room she had barricaded herself in, planning to force her back home, where she believes her family would try to kill her.

While Ms McNeill boarded a flight from Sydney to Bangkok, Ms Qunun was holed up in an airport transit hotel and afraid she would be forced onto the next flight back to Kuwait. Al-Qunun's father and brother arrived in Bangkok seeking a talk with her.

"The government has made representations to the Thai government and the Bangkok office of the UNHCR about its serious concerns on this matter and the need for Al-Qunun's claim to be assessed expeditiously", the official said.

Thailand's immigration police chief, Surachet Hakpal, told CNN that he would try to set up a meeting with family members if the United Nations agency permitted it.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun had planned to enter Australia on a tourist visa and seek asylum before she was detained by Thai authorities on Sunday. "Please help me." Instead, she was reportedly "dragged onto a plane from Manila to Riyadh with her mouth taped shut and her arms and legs bound".

The chief of immigration police Surachate Hakparn said "the Saudi Arabia embassy contacted the immigration police... and said that the girl had run away from her parents and they feared for her safety".

"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not asked for her extradition".

"She will be deported to the state of Kuwait where her family live", the Saudi embassy said in a statement.

Thailand's immigration police chief met Tuesday with officials from the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok, as Saudi Arabia tried to distance itself from accusations that it tried to block a young woman's effort to flee her family and seek asylum overseas.

Ms Qunun's family could not be reached to respond to her allegations of abuse. "I want asylum", she added in a video uploaded to twitter.

Global pressure has mounted on Thai authorities to keep Alqunun safe and to ensure she isn't forcibly returned to the Saudi kingdom, which has been subject to worldwide condemnation over the killing of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

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Australian national broadcaster ABC reported that the country's Home Affairs Department announced late Tuesday that it would consider Alqunun's application for asylum if she was found to be a genuine refugee, and called on Thai authorities and UNHCR to assess her claim as quickly as possible.

Ms Alqunun said she had been abused by her family and would be killed if she returned home.

But she had only 24 followers and her first tweets went without being noticed until the BBC picked up the story.

In Geneva, UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told reporters the process looking into Qunun's asylum claim had started and could take several days.

Hunt said he had spoken to immigration minister David Coleman about Qunun's case late on Tuesday.

Ms McNeill arrived in Thailand early on Monday and managed to join Ms Qunun in her hotel room.

Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said she was concerned by the reports over the situation and had sought further information from the government.

After her initial tweet, Ms Qunun posted almost non-stop for five hours, saying she had been abused and threatened by her family. Public pressure prompted Thai officials to return her passport and let her temporarily stay in Thailand.

Saudi Arabian authorities have denied their involvement, saying Thai officials stopped Ms Alqunun because she did not have a return ticket or itinerary to show she was a tourist.

She said she had asserted her independence, but had been forced to pray and wear a hijab and alleged she had been beaten by her brother.

Saudi's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that its embassy in Bangkok was in contact with the father "as it's the Embassy's role to inform him on her situation and the date of her return".

A number of female activists who fought for the right to drive have been arrested and disappeared and the country has been condemned across the world over the gruesome murder late a year ago of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its consulate in Turkey.

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