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Australia processing Saudi refugee's asylum claim

By Clyde Hughes
Australia processing Saudi refugee's asylum claim
Rahaf Mohammed Al-qunun (C) walks in Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday. Photo by Thai Immigration Bureau/EPA-EFE

Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Australia's foreign minister said Thursday she won't put a timetable on deciding if the country will offer a stranded Saudi woman asylum.

Marise Payne said government officials are assessing Rahaf Mohammed Al-qunun's asylum claim, after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ruled she was indeed a refugee. She remained under the UNHCR protection in Thailand Thursday.

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Al-qunun, 18, fled from her family last weekend while they were vacationing in Kuwait, hoping to reach Australia where she has friends. She was held in Bangkok after being removed from an Air Kuwait flight.

Thai officials planned to return her to Kuwait Monday, but Al-qunun barricaded herself in an airport hotel room and demanded to see U.N. officials. She said she's renounced Islam and would be killed if she returned to her family. She used social media to call for help and her plight received support internationally.

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"There are, as I have just said, a number of steps in the process, including in terms of that assessment," Payne said. "They are required to be taken and they will be completed within due course and then that matter will be resolved."

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Al-qunun had originally planned to enter Australia on a tourist visa and seek asylum before she was detained in Bangkok.

If Al-qunun receives a humanitarian visa from Australia, it would allow her to stay there to work or study permanently. She would also be able to propose or sponsor family members for permanent residence.

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A UNCHR representative said, though, resettlement is a high hurdle and less than 1 percent of refugees are resettled, with many waiting on claims while living outside the country's borders.

Al-qunun also requested to be resettled in Britain, Canada and the United States.

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