Rahaf’s path to freedom: How Saudi teenager spent months plotting elaborate escape from her ‘abusive’ family after deciding to renounce Islam – before making one near-fatal mistake
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun spent months plotting escape from Saudi Arabia
Ms al-Qunun, 18, was being advised on escape route to Australia by her friends
She ran away from a family trip to Kuwait and flew to Thailand but was detained
Ms al-Qunun has been declared a refugee and asylum bid is being considered
The Saudi teen who fled her allegedly abusive family after renouncing Islam had reportedly spent months plotting her escape.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun ran away from a family trip to Kuwait on Saturday and flew to Thailand in the hope of reaching Australia on a tourist visa.
But things went awry after the 18-year-old landed in Bangkok, where she wanted to spend a day or two breathing in fresh air as a free woman – despite friends warning her it was risky.
Her friend Shahad, 19, who fled Saudi Arabia for Sweden, said Ms al-Qunun was advised ‘no, you cannot stay. It’s too dangerous’.
‘We say that to every woman who wants to skip Saudi. Rahaf chose Thailand because she believed there was no Saudi embassy there,’ Shahad told The Australian.
Shahad added Ms al-Qunun ‘thought it was not a dangerous place’ and said the friends had ‘bought her a ticket to Australia from Thailand but she didn’t listen to us’.
Ms al-Qunun saved money for several months for the trip to Australia, where she was to seek asylum following her arrival.
But she was barred from entering Thailand, and the Thai government threatened to deport her back to Kuwait, leading to her barricading herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room with a table and mattress.
The 18-year-old claims her family would kill her if she were sent home to Saudi Arabia, where she has renounced Islam and ‘rebelled’ against her father.
She took to Twitter to post updates on her detention in an appeal for help from international authorities.
The United Nations ruled on Wednesday Ms al-Qunun was a refugee and referred her case to Australia, with the government now considering granting her asylum.
‘The UNHCR has referred Ms Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement,’ a statement from the Department of Home Affairs said.
‘The Department of Home Affairs will consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals.’
Ms al-Qunun will be subject to Australian checks before she is granted a humanitarian visa, including character and security assessments.
But Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said Ms al-Qunun will not be given any ‘special treatment’.
‘Nobody wants to see a young girl in distress and she has obviously now found a safe haven in Thailand,’ Mr Dutton said.
Ms al-Qunun is currently in the care of United Nations officials and under the protection of Thai police.
Her father and brother arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday but Ms al-Qunun refused to meet them.
Ms al-Qunun’s father denied ever physically abusing her, Thai immigration chief General Surachate Hakparn told reporters.
‘He said that he has been taking good care of his daughter, he never forced her or hurt her. He said that in Saudia Arabia there is an agency that enforces the law [against abuse], and he certainly couldn’t do anything illegal,’ General Surachate said.
‘He has 10 children. He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes. But he didn’t go into detail.’
When the United Nations ruled Ms al-Qunun is officially a refugee, she posted a selfie on Twitter with the caption, ‘Hey… I’m happy’, alongside a heart and praying hands emoji.
She then added in a separate post: ‘Don’t let anyone break your wings, you’re free. fight and get your RIGHTS!’, followed by a post in Arabic which read, ‘I made it’.
In another message, she wrote ‘Is it true??? Australia wants me to go there??? I’m so happy’.