Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun tweeted this photo on
January 9 after the UNHCR granted her refugee status.  "Hey, I'm
happy," she captioned her photo which was adorned with a decorative
image on her nose.

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The United Nations granted refugee status January
9 to a Saudi teenager who fled her country and barricaded herself in
Bangkok's international airport, claiming she would be executed for
renouncing her belief in Islam, disobeying her brutal family, and
trying to fly to Australia.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun's repeated statements that she had renounced
her belief in Islam may have been the strongest reason for her to
qualify as a refugee because punishment in Saudi Arabia could result
in lengthy imprisonment or execution by beheading.

"She said she has made a decision to renounce Islam. And I knew once
she said that, she is in serious trouble," Human Rights Watch's
Bangkok-based representative Phil Robertson tweeted.

"It's confirmed #UNHCR has determined #Rahaf is a refugee, & her case
has been referred to #Australia for protection & resettlement," Mr.
Robertson tweeted on January 9.

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne was scheduled to arrive in
Bangkok on January 10 to discuss a similar asylum case involving
Hakeem al-Arabi from Bahrain.

"Will she [Ms. Payne] take #Rahaf back with her? #SaveRahaf," Mr.
Robertson said.

Australia's Home Affairs Department issued a statement saying it will
consider the UNHCR's referral, and conduct security and character
assessments before granting her a humanitarian visa, according to
Australian media.

Ms. Qunun said in a January 7 tweet from Bangkok's airport she was
"seeking  refugee status to any country that would protect me from
getting harmed or killed due to leaving my religion and torture from
my family."

She asked Canada, the U.S., Australia or Britain to immediately contact her.

New York-based Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International in London and
others confirmed Ms. Qunun's situation was an international violation
of her human rights, and she should be assisted to safety in a third

They rejected Saudi and Thai officials' claims that her case was a
family squabble which should be resolved by her Saudi father, who flew
to Bangkok on January 8 presumably to take her home.

She said her father Mohammed al-Qunun is the governor of Saudi
Arabia's al-Sulaimi province, and she feared her family would
"torture" her, or worse, for defying them.

She has now become a symbol of Saudi women's rights in the eyes of her
supporters on Twitter's #Rahaf and #SaveRahaf sites.

They say their next target will be Saudi Arabia's repressive "male
guardianship system" which decrees all Saudi females -- throughout
their life -- must be obedient to their father, brother, husband or
son to work, travel, marry or do other public activities.

"Disobedience" is punishable by imprisonment.

Ms. Qunun's plight began when she arrived on Sunday January 6 on a
flight from Kuwait, hoping to transit Bangkok and continue to
Australia on the Australian tourist visa in her Saudi passport.

Stopped by Thai officials in the transit area, she was told that she
had to return to Saudi Arabia -- possibly because her family had
already contacted Bangkok to say she had run away from home.

Ms. Qunun immediately used her Internet-savvy skills and repeatedly
pleaded on her @rahaf84427714 Twitter account and in vivid online
videos for help, saying she would be killed if forced back to Saudi

"I'm not sure I'll survive if the Saudi Embassy doesn't stop pursuing
me," she said.

Her tweets quickly became a tense, emotional, confrontational drama,
attracting more than 110,000 followers by January 9 who demanded the
United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) arrange for her to
receive sanctuary in Australia, Canada, the U.S. or elsewhere.

Thailand has not signed international conventions on refugees, but has
sheltered thousands of refugees from Cambodia, Laos, Burma and
elsewhere. Bangkok did sign international human rights treaties
preventing the deportation of innocent people to any country where
they could be in danger.

Unable to leave the transit area of Bangkok's sprawling Suvarnabhumi
International Airport, she was escorted to a room adjacent to the
transit zone, while Thai and Saudi officials worked out a plan to fly
her home.

Egyptian-American activist Mona Eltahawy in Canada meanwhile
translated Ms. Qunun's Arabic language tweets into English, though the
teenager also posted other messages in English.

Ms. Eltahawy later received death threats and insults online for
helping a Muslim woman escape her religion, she said.

Foreign correspondents, Human Rights Watch and others also began
tweeting about Ms. Qunun, adding to demands that Thailand allow her
safe passage and for the UNHCR to protect her as a refugee so she
could travel to a third country.

Australia Broadcast Corp. correspondent Sophie McNeill, who had
reported from the Middle East, flew from Australia to Bangkok and
stayed in Ms. Qunun's barricaded room with her.

Ms. McNeill showed how the teenager blocked the door with a table,
chair and upright mattress stripped of its bed sheets, turning the
transit room into a makeshift bunker.

"It is confusing for her, and she is particularly terrified by these
reports that her father has landed in Bangkok," Ms. McNeill said.

UNHCR's Thailand representative, Giuseppe de Vincentiis arrived at her
room on January 7, met Thai officials and Ms. Qunun, and gained
permission to bring her to a UNHCR safe house for processing.

"Since Thailand is the 'Land of Smiles,' of course we won't send
someone to their death," Thai Immigrations Lt. Gen. Surachate Hakparn
told reporters on January 7.

Escorted by officials, Ms. Qunun then emerged from her room on January
7 wearing the same black T-shirt and faded jeans that she wore when
she landed.

"When she first arrived in Thailand, she opened a new [Twitter] site
and the followers reached about 45,000 within one day," said Charge
d'affaires Abdalelah Mohammed Alsheaiby from the Saudi Arabian embassy
in Bangkok during his meeting on January 8 with Thai immigration

"I wish you had taken her phone, it would have been better than
[taking] her passport," he said in Arabic language.

The English translation of his remarks quickly went viral online as
part of a campaign suggesting other Saudi females use Internet to
publicize their plight either in their country or if they try to

Ms. Qunun ditched her family when they were visiting Kuwait, having
discreetly secured a tourist visa for Australia in December.

Transit through Bangkok should have been no problem with an onward
ticket to Australia.

Thai immigration said she did not have an onward or a return ticket,
so she could not stay in the transit lounge or enter the country under
normal rules, and had to be sent back on Kuwait Airlines because she
arrived on their plane.