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Saudis ‘satisfied’ with Thailand’s handling of fleeing teenager

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun arrived in Bangkok from Kuwait late on Saturday after slipping away from her family, who she accused of abuse.

Thailand’s immigration police chief has met officials from the Saudi embassy in Bangkok as Saudi Arabia tried to distance itself from accusations that it attempted to block a young woman’s effort to flee her family and seek asylum abroad.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun arrived in Bangkok from Kuwait late on Saturday after slipping away from her family, who she accused of abuse. The 18-year-old was stopped by officials in Thailand who confiscated her passport.

Her urgent pleas for help over Twitter from an airport hotel room garnered tens of thousands of followers and the attention of the UN’s refugee agency.

Public pressure prompted Thai officials to return her passport and let her temporarily stay in Thailand.

The teenager alleged several times that Saudi officials were involved in seizing her passport, but the embassy in Thailand repeatedly said it was only monitoring her situation.

The statement, which described the case as a “family affair”, said the kingdom did not demand her deportation to Saudi Arabia.

The embassy — and Thai officials — earlier also said that Ms Mohammed Alqunun was stopped by Thai authorities in Bangkok because she did not have a return ticket, a hotel reservation or itinerary to show she was a tourist, which appeared to have raised a flag about the reasons for her trip.

Thailand’s immigration police chief, Major General Surachate Hakparn, told reporters on Tuesday that Saudi diplomats had told him they were satisfied with how her case had been handled.

“The position of two countries on this matter is the same — that the priority is to provide her safety. We are both concerned for Miss Rahaf’s safety and well-being,” he said.

“The Saudi charge d’affaires said he is satisfied and expressed confidence on the work of Thai immigration, of the Thai government, and of the Foreign Ministry yesterday.”

Maj Gen Surachate said Ms Mohammed Alqunun’s father and brother were due to arrive soon in Bangkok, but it was her decision whether to meet them.

On Twitter, she has expressed fear of such a meeting. The father had previously been expected on Monday night.

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Babar Baloch, said it is premature to say what will happen next, but it could take several days for the agency to look into the teenager’s claims.

He said it “too early to tell” if she will be granted asylum or refugee status.

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

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