Saudi woman whose asylum plea went viral might find safety in Australia

Brett Molina
This handout picture taken and released by Thai Immigration Bureau on January 7, 2019 shows 18-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qanun escorted by the Thai immigration officer and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials at the Suvarnabhumi international airport in Bangkok.

Australia's government said it will consider the resettlement case of a Saudi woman who is seeking asylum from her family.

The Associated Press reports Australia's Department of Home Affairs confirmed the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had referred Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, for refugee resettlement, where a person is transferred from an asylum country to another country that allows them to stay permanently.

The UNHCR has not independently confirmed it granted Alqunun refugee status. Their latest statement released Tuesday said they continue to review her case.

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

On Monday, the UNHCR said it was granted access to Alqunun to review her case after she was stopped in Thailand en route to Australia.

Alqunun told Human Rights Watch she was fleeing her family over abuse and death threats. The Saudi embassy stopped her in Bangkok as she was traveling from Kuwait, seizing her passport, Alqunun told HRW.

"Saudi women fleeing their families can face severe violence from relatives, deprivation of liberty, and other serious harm if returned against their will,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement. 

More: U.N. agency cleared to visit Saudi woman whose plea to seek asylum went viral on Twitter

The Saudi embassy in Thailand denied getting involved, saying it was only monitoring Alqunun's case.

Alqunun grabbed the attention of users on Twitter after she shared several posts and videos of her plight in Thailand. Her story spawned the hashtag #SaveRahaf, as a plea to grant her asylum.

"If she is found to be a refugee, then we will give very, very, very serious consideration to a humanitarian visa,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. before the U.N. deemed her a refugee.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Saudi woman whose asylum plea went viral might find safety in Australia