An 18-year-old woman fleeing Saudi Arabia has been recognized as a refugee by the United Nations after she hid inside a hotel room in Thailand to prevent her forcible return.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) assessed Rahaf al-Qunun’s claims and referred her to Australia for possible resettlement, The Guardian reported Wednesday.

The teenager, who was initially traveling on a tourist visa to Australia, was detained by Thai authorities and denied entry into the country.


Qunun made headlines over the weekend after she barricaded herself inside a hotel room near the Bangkok airport to prevent being placed on a return flight to Saudi Arabia. She says she is fleeing her abusive family who have threatened to kill her since she renounced Islam.

She used social media to spread awareness about her story, earning a groundswell of support.

Australia’s Department of Home Affairs said that it will process Qunun’s request for asylum the same way it does all UNHCR referrals, The Guardian reported.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said there would be “no special treatment” for Qunun.

Qunun will remain in the care of the international agency until a long-term solution is found, officials said.

“She remains in a safe location in Bangkok for the time being,” an UNHCR spokeswoman told The Guardian.

Elaine Pearson, the director of Human Rights Watch Australia, called on the government to “act quickly” on Qunun’s case.

“She is a young Saudi woman whose face has been plastered around the world,” Pearson said. “She’s more at risk than other refugees, not just from her family but threats she has faced online and from her own government."

“We all know what the Saudi government is capable of doing on foreign soil. I would hope that, once her claim has been assessed, the Australian government will act quickly to get her out of Thailand and to safety,” she added.