Bangkok, Jan 11 (AP/UNB) — Australia's foreign minister praised Thailand for its handling of a young Saudi woman who fled her family to seek asylum in Australia, but also reminded it of continuing concern about a Bahraini soccer player granted asylum in Australia who remains in Thai detention.
Marise Payne met with senior Thai officials in Bangkok on Thursday after Australia announced it would assess the request for asylum by 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, who was stopped Saturday at a Bangkok airport on her way to Australia and her passport seized. She said she was fleeing abuse by her family.
Payne told reporters that Australia's review of Alqunun's case is already underway.
She quashed speculation that Alqunun might accompany her back to Australia "because there are steps which are required in the process which Australia, and any other country considering such a matter, would have to go through."
Confined to an airport transit hotel, Alqunun conducted an online appeal for help, garnering tens of thousands of followers on Twitter and enough public and diplomatic support to convince Thai officials to admit her temporarily under the protection of U.N. officials. The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees quickly deemed her a legitimate refugee.
Alqunun's case has highlighted the cause of women's rights in Saudi Arabia. Several female Saudis fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home. Human rights activists say many similar cases have gone unreported.
She has attracted interest worldwide, particularly in Australia. In downtown Sydney on Thursday, four women dressed in jeans and calling themselves the Secret Sisterhood held a topless protest outside the building housing the Saudi Consulate, calling on Australia to grant Alqunun residency.
Alqunun's father arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday, but his daughter refused to meet with him. Thailand Immigration Police chief Lt. Gen. Surachate Hakparn said the father denied physically abusing Alqunun or trying to force her into an arranged marriage, which were among the reasons she gave for her flight.
Surachate said the father wanted his daughter back but respected her decision. Surachate described him as a governor in Saudi Arabia.
"He has 10 children. He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes," Surachate said.
Payne was also asked by reporters about the case of Hakeem al-Araibi, a 25-year-old former member of Bahrain's national soccer team, who was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017 after fleeing his homeland, where he said he was persecuted and tortured. He was arrested while on holiday in Thailand last November due to an Interpol notice in which Bahrain sought his custody after he was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalizing a police station — a charge he denies. Bahrain is seeking his extradition.
She said she raised Australia's concerns about the case with Thailand's deputy prime minister and foreign minister.
"The Thai government is most certainly aware of the importance of this matter to Australia," she said. "I do note that there are legal proceedings underway in relation to Mr. al-Araibi, and Australia will continue to be in very close contact with Thai authorities in relation to this."
Al-Araibi, who now plays for Melbourne's Pascoe Vale Football Club, has been publicly critical of the Bahrain royal family's alleged involvement in sports scandals, which puts him at risk of punishment by the Bahraini government.
Al-Araibi has said he was blindfolded and had his legs beaten while he was held in Bahrain in 2012. He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active. Bahrain has a Shiite majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, and has a reputation for harsh repression since its failed "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011.
Craig Foster, a former Australian soccer player, held a news conference Thursday in Sydney to issue a joint call for al-Araibi's release with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Sydney-based Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights.
After commending FIFA, soccer's world governing body, and Australia's Football Federation for supporting al-Araibi's release, Foster criticized the Asian Football Confederation and its head, Salman al-Khalifa.
"Sheikh Salman is obligated to support Hakeem. He is obligated to do everything in his power to advocate, both privately and publicly, and to use the immense leverage that football has, with the Bahrain government, his own government, he's a Bahrainian national, and also with the Thai government to release Hakeem. The silence of the Asian Football Confederation is not just confounding, it's absolutely disgraceful," he said.
Sydney, Jan 10 (AP/UNB) — Australian police arrested a man after 38 suspicious packages containing a possibly hazardous substance were sent to foreign consulates in the Australian cities of Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney.
The 48-year-old was arrested at his home in Shepparton, Victoria state, on Wednesday night, and charged with sending dangerous articles to be carried by a postal service, police said. He was due to appear in Melbourne Magistrates Court later on Thursday.
Around 10 diplomatic missions, mostly in Melbourne, on Wednesday reported the delivery of suspicious packages, some of them labelled "asbestos." The missions included those from the United States, Britain, India, South Korea, Pakistan, Israel, Switzerland and Greece.
This followed the discovery and removal on Monday of a suspicious package at the Argentinian Consulate in Sydney.
Australian Federal Police and Victoria Police said in a joint statement they will allege the substance in the packages was sourced from the man's Shepparton home.
"Police have so far recovered 29 of these packages, with forensic testing to be undertaken on them to determine the exact composition of the material in them," the statement said.
"Police have identified all intended recipients and have put processes in place to recover the outstanding packages. There is no ongoing threat to the general public," it added.
Sydney, Jan 10 (AP/UNB) — Four women held a topless protest in Sydney on Thursday to support runaway Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, as Australia began considering her bid to settle in the country as a refugee.
Alqunun was on Wednesday deemed a refugee by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, after being detained in Bangkok en route to Australia. The 18-year-old publicized her case via social media after barricading herself in her Bangkok hotel room, saying she feared for her safety if sent back to her family in Saudi Arabia.
In downtown Sydney on Thursday morning, four women, dressed only in jeans and calling themselves the Secret Sisterhood, protested outside the building housing the Saudi Consulate, calling on Australia to grant Alqunun residency.
With "Secret Sisterhood" written on their backs, the women held placards with messages including "Let her in," ''Rahaf Sisterhood Hero" and "All women free + safe."
Secret Sisterhood founder Jacquie Love said the protest was held to urge the Australian government to recognize Alqunun's plight, and that of oppressed women everywhere.
"We are here to encourage them to let her in," Love said. "She's been recognized by the U.N. as a refugee so we believe the Australian government needs to step up, recognize her plight and recognize what she's gone through, and she could be an icon for the rest of the world that women shouldn't be oppressed and they should be fleeing countries that they are oppressed in."
"We decided to go topless because we believe all women should be able to express themselves freely and safely and we wanted to send a message to Rahaf that we can actually do that in Australia, that women can actually be free and safe," Love said.
Secret Sisterhood has also set up a GoFundMe account, which had raised $2,290 dollars for Alqunun by Thursday morning.
Alqunun's case has highlighted the cause of women's rights in Saudi Arabia. Several female Saudis fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home. Human rights activists say many more similar cases will have gone unreported.
After mounting a campaign for assistance on Twitter from her Bangkok airport hotel, Alqunun was allowed to temporarily stay in Thailand under the care of the U.N. refugee agency, which ruled her claim for asylum valid and referred her case to Australia. Following that decision, Australia's Home Affairs Department said it would "consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals."
Alqunun's father arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday, but his daughter refused to meet with him.
Thailand's Immigration Police chief Lt. Gen. Surachate Hakparn said the father — whose name has not been released — denied physically abusing Alqunun or trying to force her into an arranged marriage, which were among the reasons she gave for her flight.
Surachate said Alqunun's father wanted his daughter back but respected her decision. Surachate described the father as being a governor in Saudi Arabia.
"He has 10 children. He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes," Surachate said. "But he didn't go into detail."
Before the U.N. agency's decision to refer her case to Australia, the country's Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said there would be no "special treatment" for her.
However, Health Minister Greg Hunt, also speaking before the U.N.'s decision, said: "If she is found to be a refugee, then we will give very, very, very serious consideration to a humanitarian visa."
Bangkok, Jan 9(AP/UNB) — Australia says it is considering granting a Saudi woman who fled from her family refugee resettlement based on referral by the U.N.
The Department of Home Affairs confirmed in a statement on Wednesday that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had referred Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun to Australia for consideration for refugee settlement.
Alqunun arrived in Bangkok on a flight from Kuwait on Saturday. After first being detained by Thai authorities, she refused to board a flight back to Kuwait, barricading herself in a hotel room. She publicized her case via social media, saying she feared for her safety if made to return home to her family.
She was later placed in the care of UNHCR workers while her bid for refugee status was considered.
Thai police say a Saudi woman who fled her family to seek asylum abroad has refused to meet with her father in Thailand.
Thailand's immigration police chief says Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun's father and brother arrived together in Bangkok on Tuesday but Alqunun has refused to meet them.
Alqunun arrived in Bangkok from Kuwait late Saturday but was denied entry by Thai officials. Following urgent pleas for help she made over Twitter, she has since been allowed to temporarily stay in Thailand under the care of the U.N.'s refugee agency that will determine her protection claim.
Immigration police chief Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn says U.N. officials expect that the case will be concluded in a few days.
Sydney, Jan 9 (AP/UNB) — Several foreign consulates in Melbourne were evacuated Wednesday as Australian officials noted they were responding to multiple "hazardous material" events in the city.
The Australian Federal Police said that police and emergency services were examining suspicious packages delivered to the foreign consulates.
"The circumstances surrounding these incidents are being investigated," the police said in a statement.
The government Vic Emergency website noted at least 10 "hazardous material" incidents.
Police, fire crews and ambulances were seen at a number of diplomatic offices, including those of India, Italy, Spain and Germany.
The incidents come after a suspicious package was intercepted at the Argentine consulate in Sydney on Monday. Police there took away a sample of a substance for testing, the results of which have yet to be revealed.