Saudi teen 'granted asylum in Australia'
The 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled to Thailand to escape her allegedly abusive family has been granted asylum in Australia, according to a Thai immigration official.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun garnered worldwide attention after she began tweeting from Bangkok airport last weekend, saying her life was in danger if she were forced to return to Saudi Arabia.
"Yes, Australia has granted her asylum, but we are waiting to hear where exactly she is going," immigration police chief Surachate Hakparn confirmed to CNN today.
The Department of Home Affairs is yet to confirm the reports.
Mr Hakparn said Canada had also offered Ms Alqunun asylum and they were waiting for her decision.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR had referred Ms Alqunun's protection request to Australia on Wednesday, though it had not been confirmed before now that Canada was also considering her case.
Mr Hakparn said Ms Alqunun, who is staying in an undisclosed location in Bangkok, would be leaving Thailand "almost as soon as the final decision is made".
"We are providing necessary security for her," he said.
Ms Alqunun had flown to Thailand from Kuwait to escape her family, saying she feared they would kill her because she renounced Islam.
She intended to fly on to Australia, but barricaded herself in a hotel room in Bangkok's main airport on Sunday after Thai immigration officials attempted to deport her back to the Middle East.
Ms Alqunun and her supporters drew global attention to her case through a social media campaign launched mostly on Twitter.
She documented her arrival and subsequent detention in Bangkok on her smartphone, creating new Twitter and Periscope accounts where she received a deluge of supportive messages.
Her story has also put Saudi Arabia's guardianship laws, which restrict many aspects of women's lives, back under international scrutiny.
In response to the media campaign Thai authorities allowed her access to the UNHCR and did not deport her to Kuwait.
Her online campaign was so successful that Saudi official Abdalelah Mohammed A. al-Shuaibi told Thai officials through a translator: "We wish they had confiscated her phone instead of her passport."
Ms Alqunun later tweeted the video of that meeting and wrote that her "Twitter account has changed the game against what he wished for me".
Today though, Ms Alqunun's Twitter account appeared to have been deleted.
Ms Alqunun's case is unusual because of the speedy offer of resettlement.
It is not an automatic right for refugees and less than 1 percent of registered refugees globally are resettled each year, according to the UNHCR.
Refugees can wait their whole lives for a third country to accept them.
The process is often assessed on the urgency of a refugee's individual needs, with the most vulnerable prioritised.
Refugees can wait from nine months to several years to hear an answer - longer if they appeal a refusal.
On Wednesday, the Department of Home Affairs said it would consider Ms Alqunun's "referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals."
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also said there would be no "special treatment" in the case.
"Nobody wants to see a young girl in distress and she has obviously now found a safe haven in Thailand," Dutton told reporters in Brisbane.
Shortly after hearing about Ms Alqunun's plight, Australia said that it would "carefully consider" granting her a humanitarian protection visa, if she applied for one.
Such a visa would allow Ms Alqunun to stay permanently in Australia and have the right to work and study.
She would also be able to propose or sponsor family members for permanent residence.
© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2019