January 18, 2019

Rahaf al-Qunun: Saudi teen who fled her family arrives in Canada

14 January 2019, 09:48 | Darnell Patrick

Immigration police via AP FILE

Immigration Bureau Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun foreground walks by Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn right before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok

Qunun has accused her family of abuse, and has refused to meet her father and brother who arrived in Bangkok to try take her back to Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his government would accept her as a refugee.

Thailand's immigration police chief says a Saudi woman who fled alleged abuse by her family will leave Bangkok for Canada.

However, the office of Canada's foreign minister said it could not confirm the 18-year-old had been granted asylum.

As a Saudi woman who has publicly scorned her family, experts say she ticks many boxes.

"I want life. I want to be independent", she said.

Taking in a Saudi refugee comes as diplomatic tensions between Canada and Saudi Arabia remain tense after several months of strained relations.

Thai authorities have denied Rahaf access to the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees to make a refugee claim, Human Rights Watch said in a press release.

Alqunun's appeal for refugee status also underscored the severe restrictions that women in Saudi Arabia face.

But it may also have increased the risk to al-Qunun's safety - making her resettlement more urgent and strengthening her case for asylum.

Her case came to attention this week when she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to Saudi Arabia.

"The quick actions over the past week of the Government of Thailand in providing temporary refuge and facilitating refugee status determination by UNHCR, and of the Government of Canada in offering emergency resettlement to and arranging her travel were key to the successful resolution of this case", the agency said in a statement.

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Canadian officials were not immediately available for comment.

"Canada has been unequivocal that we will always stand up for human rights and women's rights around the world", he said.

By Friday, Alqunun had closed down her Twitter account.

A loose group of activists and friends bolstered her social media campaign using the hashtag #SaveRahaf and was able to stave off deportation.

The developments come after the teenager, who will be flying from Bangkok to Seoul before taking a connecting flight to Canada, was given refugee status by the United Nations high commissioner for refugees on Wednesday.

The U.N. refugee agency coordinated with Canadian authorities to resettle her there, and she will be in the care of the International Organization for Migration once she arrives, he added.

"There are a lot of gulf countries that you could. poke in the eye", she said. The Australian Government has not confirmed she has or will be granted asylum.

"Once again we are seeing the abusive influence of Saudi authorities overseas as they seek to forcibly return Saudi women fleeing mistreatment and violence by their families", said Page.

Her Twitter account gained more than 100,000 followers over six days but the teenager reportedly suspended her profile on Friday after receiving "some very nasty, very real death threats".

The diplomat dispute began when Ms. Freeland tweeted concerns about the news that several social activists had been arrested in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi, a women's rights activist.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with senior Thai officials in Bangkok on Thursday. He said Alqunun's father wanted his daughter back but respected her decision.

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