Saudi teen snubs Australia asylum



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An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled alleged abuse by her family is on her way to a new life in Canada, Thailand's immigration police chief says.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun boarded a Korean Air flight from Bangkok to Seoul late on last night before catching a connecting flight to Canada, Surachate Hakparn says.

"Canada has granted her asylum," General Surachate said yesterday evening.

Saudi teen Rahaf Alqunun was granted asylum in Australia, according to a Thai official. (9news)
"She'll leave tonight at 11.15pm."

Earlier, there had been conflicting reports on where she would go.

Ms Alqunun had told the Daily Mail Australia yesterday she was happy to "start a new life" in Australia and that she had been provided with an apartment for three months although she didn't know where it would be.

Australian government sources denied the Daily Mail report.

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The Australian newspaper, however, reported she was likely to go to Canada after the United Nations High Commission for Refugees withdrew its referral to Australia to take Ms Alqunun as a refugee.

It claimed Ms Alqunun had expressed a preference to go to Canada.

The 18-year-old gained worldwide attention after she began tweeting from Bangkok. (Supplied)
Ms Alqunun garnered worldwide attention after she barricaded herself in an airport hotel room in Bangkok and began tweeting that her life was in danger if she were forced to return to Saudi Arabia.

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.

Ms Alqunun deleted her Twitter account, with a friend citing death threats for the decision. (Supplied)
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 one percent of registered refugees globally are resettled each year, according to the UNHCR.

Rahaf Alqunun and authorities (AAP) (AAP)
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.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun. (Twitter)
"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.

© AAP 2019