UN concerned over asylum seeker’s dad in Thailand

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Nowhere to run: Rahaf speaking in this screencap from Bangkok. The asylum seeker believes she will be killed if she returns to Saudi Arabia. — AFP Read more at https://www.thestar.com.my/news/regional/2019/01/09/un-concerned-over-asylum-seekers-dad-in-thailand/#EyqfS8uTrxhdCPGS.99

BANGKOK: The father of an 18-year-old Saudi woman asylum seeker, who fled to Thailand saying she feared her family would kill her, has arrived in Bangkok and wished to meet his daughter, Thailand’s immigration chief said.

But Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun’s father and brother would have to wait and see whether the UN refugee agency would allow them to see her, immigration chief Surachate Hakpan said.

“The father and brother want to go and talk to Rahaf but the UN will need to approve such talk,” Surachate told reporters.

The UN refugee agency yesterday said it was investigating Rahaf’s case after she fled to Thailand saying she feared her family would kill her if she were sent back to Saudi Arabia.

Activists are concerned about what Saudi Arabia will do after Thai authorities reversed a decision to expel her and allowed Qunun to enter the country under the care of the UNHCR.

“The father is now here in Thailand and that’s a source of concern,” Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Asia, said. “We have no idea what he is going to do … whether he will try to find out where she is and go harass her. We don’t know whether he is going to try to get the embassy to do that.”

Lawmakers and activists in Australia and Britain urged their governments to grant asylum to Rahaf, who was finally allowed by Thailand to enter the country late on Monday, after nearly 48 hours stranded at Bangkok airport under threat of being expelled.

She is staying in a Bangkok hotel while the UNHCR processes her application for refugee status.

UNHCR staff were interviewing her yesterday after meeting her the day before.

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

“We are very grateful that the Thai authorities did not send back (Rahaf) against her will and are extending protection to her,” he said.

The case has drawn new global attention to Saudi Arabia’s strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male “guardian” to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

It comes at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its allies over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.

Qunun’s plight unfolded on social media, drawing support from around the world, which convinced Thai authorities to back down from sending her back to Saudi Arabia. — Reuters