18 year old Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun, from Saudi Arabia, now holds refugee status in Canada after her online campaign for support from a hotel room in Bangkok.
Rahaf had renounced Islam, which is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. The United Nations Human Right Council (UNHRC) granted her refugee status and approached Canada on her behalf.
The young woman was on a trip to Kuwait with her family, when she fled on a flight to Bangkok. She had an Australian visa and was planning to take a transfer from Bangkok to Australia – but her plans were complicated when a Saudi diplomat confiscated her passport as she left her flight in Suvarnabhumi airport.
Now in Bangkok, Rahaf began tweeting about her situation to what began as a mere 24 followers. The #SaveRahaf tweet soon emerged and gathered interest. Her tweets were in Arabic, but-American activist Mona Eltahawy translated them into English and shared them with a much wider following, and the tweets were picked up by the Human Rights Watch and journalists.
Thai authorities at first attempted to deport Rahaf back to her family in Kuwait. By this point, Rahaf was receiving advise from the UN’s refugee agency, and barricaded herself in her hotel room with Australian journalist Sophie McNeil while the UNHRC worked on her behalf.
The UNHRC originally called for Australia to offer asylum, but ultimately turned to Canada – a choice that may have been influenced by Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s insistence that Rahaf would receive no special treatment, along with the country’s tough attitude towards refugees.
This is an example of how online platforms can now be a powerful place to encourage political action. It is worth noting how Thailand’s position on Rahaf’s case shifted very quickly from attempted deportation to offering temporary asylum – a move perhaps prompted by international interest garnered on Twitter.
Theology applicants might reflect on the spread and influence of Islam in the Middle East, and the nature of religious states. They might be interested in further research into Islam in Saudi Arabia.
Politics and International Relations applicants might be interested by the role of the UN in Rahaf’s case; Saudi Arabia’s place in international relations, including between the UK and Saudi Arabia; and the way in which international relations may force or encourage countries to comprise on the political stances they hold internally.