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Topless protest in Sydney in support of Saudi runaway

Woman protesters march with a sign outside the building housing the Saudi consulate in Sydney on Thursday.(Image captured from Australia Broadcast Corporation via AP)

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SYDNEY: Four women held a topless protest in Sydney on Thursday to support runaway Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, as Australia began considering her bid for resettlement as a refugee.

On Wednesday, Ms al-Qunun was  deemed a refugee by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, after being detained in Bangkok en route to Australia. The 18-year-old publicised 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 Ms al-Qunun 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 recognise al-Qunun's plight, and that of oppressed women everywhere.

"We are here to encourage them to let her in,'' Ms Love said. "She's been recognized by the UN as a refugee so we believe the Australian government needs to step up, recognise her plight and recognise 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.''

Secret Sisterhood has also set up a GoFundMe account, which had raised A$2,290 for Ms al-Qunun by Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne was in Bangkok on Thursday on a visit expected to include discussion on the fate of Ms al-Qunun.

The Australian government has said it would consider giving her asylum. 

Ms al-Qunun is currently staying in a Bangkok hotel under the care of the United Nation's refugee agency (UNHCR), which has been processing her application for refugee status ahead of possible resettlement in Australia.

She has refused to meet her father and brother, who arrived in Bangkok this week to try to take her back to Saudi Arabia while denying accusations that her family was abusing her physically and emotionally, Thai authorities said.

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