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Saudi teen who fled family leaves Thailand for asylum in Canada

14 Comments
By Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Anna Mehler Paperny

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family saying she feared for her life has been granted asylum in Canada, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday, as Thai officials confirmed the teen was en route to Toronto.

Trudeau said United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had asked Canada to take in Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who grabbed international attention this week after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to her family, which denies any abuse.

"Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights, to stand up for women's rights around the world, and I can confirm that we have accepted the U.N.'s request," he told reporters.

The decision is likely to exacerbate Canada's already poor relations with Saudi Arabia, which last year barred the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh after Ottawa criticized Saudi authorities for detaining women's' activists.

Qunun arrived in Bangkok on Saturday and was initially denied entry, but she soon started posting messages on Twitter from the transit area of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport saying she had "escaped Kuwait" and her life would be in danger if forced to return to Saudi Arabia.

Following a 48-hour stand-off at Bangkok airport, some of it barricaded in a transit lounge hotel room, she was allowed to enter Thailand and was then processed as a refugee by the UNHCR.

The UNHCR welcomed Canada's decision and also acknowledged Thailand had given Qunun temporary refuge.

"Ms. al-Qunun's plight has captured the world's attention over the past few days, providing a glimpse into the precarious situation of millions of refugees worldwide," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement.

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.

"It was her wish to go to Canada," Thailand's immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters. "She still refuses to meet with her father and brother, and they are going to be traveling back tonight as well ... They are disappointed."

Her case has drawn global attention to Saudi Arabia's strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male "guardian" to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

A Korean Air flight carrying Qunun left Bangkok for Seoul on Friday night at 11:37 p.m. local time (1637 GMT), an airport official told Reuters.

Qunun will board a connecting flight to Toronto from Seoul's Incheon airport. She is expected to arrive in Canada on Saturday morning.

Trudeau brushed off a question as to whether Canada's move might make it harder to repair ties with Saudi Arabia.

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

Amid increasing domestic political pressure, Trudeau said last month that his Liberal government was looking for a way out of a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Riyadh.

Qunun's flight has emerged at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.

Canada has repeatedly said Khashoggi's murder was unacceptable and demanded a full explanation. Maclean and Marguerita Choy)

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

14 Comments
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The exciting part is when she has to go to a Saudi embassy ...

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Does she know how cold it is in Canada? Brrrrr.

Besides that, nice places with nice people. I'm unsure how an 18 yr old girl will support herself in Canada, but she will probably figure it out.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Besides that, nice places with nice people. I'm unsure how an 18 yr old girl will support herself in Canada, but she will probably figure it out.

The Canadian government will undoubtedly assist.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Congratulations, Canada. You're obviously a country with a heart.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

Kudos to Canada!

It's a sorely needed breath a fresh air to see a North American country that is still willing to provide asylum to refugees who really need it.

I think I'll purchase some Canadian products online today so that my tax dollars can go to a system that is actually invested in helping people.

This would not happen in the US because of the well paid Saudi lobbyist in the WH. Thankfully Canada still has a soul.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

"Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights, to stand up for women's rights around the world,

Hats off - once more - to Canada! Walking its talk - again.

Qunun's flight has emerged at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Worrying with Trump severing ties with the US's historical allies that one of the US's few remaining 'allies' is KSA.

Worrying too knowing KSA's MbS, just like his high fivin' buddy Putin, is not afraid to send hitmen abroad.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Canada did good.

Now here is one country with morals and courage.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

This is the best news of the day.

Hoping the Saudis will leave her alone.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Im glad she escaped Sharia and an oppressive country, society, family. She’ll be fine in North America. I just hope the savages from Saudi gov don’t track her down.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

VIVE LE CANADA!

They are a true beacon of human rights and liberty. This is also a clear razzberry to the totalitarian regime of Saudi Arabia, which is evil and for which too many US military lives have defended against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The human rights record is gross - even worse than Iraq ever was and that makes the Saudi royal regime NOT worth defending.

USA, it's time to quit kissing up to the fanatical dirtbag Saudi royal family.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

This article is journalistic malpractice. They go on about the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia but this is completely irrelevant and not why she felt her life was in danger. The sole reason that she was granted asylum is because she has renounced Islam and the punishment for this in Islam is death. This is why she fears for her life and has a reasonable fear of persecution under the UN refugee convention. Not being able to travel or drive does not make you a convention refugee.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

The sole reason that she was granted asylum is because she has renounced Islam and the punishment for this in Islam is death. This is why she fears for her life and has a reasonable fear of persecution under the UN refugee convention.

Correct - I think she had committed a capital offence under Saudi (sharia) law. The Quran is clear on the punishment for apostasy.

However, an independent and outspoken woman in Saudi will still not have a very bright future. The family could easily kill her out of shame and the authorities would probably not intervene. This is more than about being able to drive.

She has a bright future in Canada. I hope she speaks out for women and atheism.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

The Quran is clear on the punishment for apostasy.

It's anything but clear.

"There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error"

There are scores of scholars, councils, and judges who try to interpret what it all means. I guess it keeps them busy.

I hope it all works out for this young woman. She seems tough and capable.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Trudeau proved he has more balls than most of the western world put together.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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