Australia is considering a UN request to give asylum to 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al Qunun after she made headlines with her attempt to flee her allegedly abusive family.

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne speaks during a news conference at the Australian Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand on January 10, 2019.
Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne speaks during a news conference at the Australian Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand on January 10, 2019. (Reuters)

Australia's foreign minister on Thursday declined to say how long it will take to consider a UN request to resettle a young Saudi woman who fled her family's alleged abuse, as the 18-year-old's plight sparked a topless protest in Sydney and debate among Saudis over their country's restrictive "guardianship" laws.

Rahaf Mohammed al Qunun's attempt to flee the ultra-conservative kingdom has been making headlines since she landed in Bangkok from Kuwait last weekend.

Thai authorities threatened to deport her but with the help of activists, diplomats and a hastily opened Twitter account Qunun launched an impassioned asylum campaign.

As global interest surged – and her Twitter followers snowballed into the tens of thousands – the Thais backed down from deportation, handing her into the care of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Bangkok, which urged Australia to offer resettlement.

Payne to meet al Qunun

Foreign Minister Marise Payne, on a scheduled visit to Bangkok to meet her Thai counterpart, told reporters Australia was "engaged in the steps of the assessment process of Miss al Qunun as required."

She said there was "no possibility" that Qunun would return to Australia with her Thursday and would not speculate on a timeframe if – as Canberra has heavily hinted this week – she is granted refugee status.

Qunun alleges abuse by her family, while rights groups also said she had renounced Islam, risking prosecution in conservative Saudi Arabia.

Her father, who denies mistreating her, will remain in Bangkok "until he knows which country she is going to", Thailand's immigration police chief told reporters Thursday.

The Saudi embassy in Bangkok has said it did not demand the teenager's deportation and the case was a family affair.

No sanctuary in Thailand 

In a statement ahead of her trip, Payne said she would lobby for the return to Australia of former Bahraini national footballer Hakeem Alaraibi, who was granted refugee status there after fleeing a crackdown during the Arab Spring.

He is wanted in the Gulf state on charges linked to rioting, which he denies.

Alaraibi was detained in Bangkok in November while trying to go on vacation.

Payne reiterated Australia's call for Thailand not to send Alaraibi back to Bahrain.

Qunun's case has revived interest in the plight of the footballer, who has been held in Bangkok detention.

The Saudi weighed in on Alaraibi's case on her widely followed Twitter account.

Thailand, which is not a signatory to the UN code on protecting the rights of refugees, has repeatedly faced criticism for detaining or sending back people with asylum claims to repressive regimes.

Australia has also come under fire for re-routing migrants attempting to arrive by boat to offshore island camps.

Qunun had said that fleeing her family throws her into conflict with the Saudi system, which allows male family members to make decisions for female relatives, and if returned, she is "100 percent" sure she would be killed by her family.

Source: AFP