Why Saudi woman can be arrested for disobeying her father

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The United Nations refugee agency has assessed the case of a Saudi teenager trying to get to Australia and found she is a genuine refugee.

Alqunun arrived in Bangkok on a flight from Kuwait on Saturday, and planned to continue to Australia, for which she held a tourist visa.

"The UNHCR has referred Ms Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement", Australia's Department of Home Affairs said in an emailed statement.

But armed with a phone, she barricaded herself into an airside hotel room and fought back - live-tweeting her fears of deportation in a campaign that swiftly galvanised worldwide support and prompted a sharp U-turn by Thai officials.

Gen. Surachate Hakparn, the young woman's father and brother were due to arrive soon in Bangkok, but it would be Alqunun's decision whether to meet with them.

While Ms McNeill boarded a flight from Sydney to Bangkok, Ms Qunun was holed up in an airport transit hotel and afraid she would be forced onto the next flight back to Kuwait.

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.

In one of her first tweets from @rahaf84427714 she said she was in "real danger" if sent back to Saudi Arabia. We have no idea what he is going to do ... whether he will try to find out where she is and go harass her. "It was her wish to be under the care of the UNHCR, not that of the Thai government", Surachet told the diplomat.

In a video of the meeting, Saudi charge d'affaires Abdalelah Mohammed Alshuaibi could be heard telling Thai officials through a translator: "She opened a Twitter account and her followers grew to 45,000 within one day". Saudi officials have denied any involvement in her case.

The UNHCR has now assessed her case and found she is a refugee.

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Her father and brother are "the two male relatives (Qunun) most fears" and could "physically harm her in an effort to compel her to return", said Human Rights Watch's Phil Robertson, who has been in contact with her since she started live-tweeting her ordeal.

Renouncing Islam is a crime punishable by death under the Saudi system of syariah, or Islamic law, though the punishment has not been carried out in recent memory.

But the Thai immigration chief, Surachate Hakpan, said the men would have to wait to learn whether the UN's refugee agency would allow the request.

"She does not have a return reservation or a tourist program, which requires deportation by the Thai authorities", it said.

"She said very clearly that she has suffered both physical and psychological abuse".

Her 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.

Thailand is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and provides no legal protection to asylum seekers, although there are more than 100,000 refugees in the country.

"She is now under the sovereignty of Thailand; no-one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere", he said.

Dina Ali Lasloom, 24, was en route from Kuwait via the Philippines but was taken back to Saudi Arabia from Manila airport by her family. Alanazi noted that a representative from the Saudi embassy had arrived to the airport to accompany the young woman back as she was considered a youth.

Saudi women runaways have increasingly turned to social media to amplify their calls for help.

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