Canada grants asylum to Saudi woman

Jan 13, 2019, 01:12
Canada grants asylum to Saudi woman

An 18-year-old Saudi girl, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, who fled from her family in Kuwait to Thailand, has been granted asylum in Canada.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland greeted Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, after she landed in Toronto.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier told reporters that his country had granted a request from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to grant asylum.

Alqunun made worldwide headlines this week after she escaped from her family, who had been vacationing in Kuwait, and boarded a flight to Bangkok, Thailand, on January 5.

Qunun, who had initially meant to seek asylum in Australia, chose Canada instead because Australia took too long assessing whether to grant her asylum.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said the teen had a "very long and tiring journey" and would not be taking any questions that day.

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The Canada-Saudi Arabia relations have soured after a diplomatic row which was sparked by the Canadian government's call for the immediate release of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi and his sister Samar via Twitter on August 5, 2018.

Instead, she took a Korean Air flight from Bangkok to Seoul yesterday and then a connecting flight to Toronto.

Alqunun earlier tweeted two pictures from her plane seat with the hashtag, "I did it" and a number of emojis.

Sanctioning Alqunun's resettlement and appearing to stand on principle, moreover, could bolster Trudeau's image domestically at a time when he's under fire from the left and the right on such issues as immigration policy and Indigenous relations, she added.

Rahaf first said she was aiming for Australia where officials had suggested they would give serious consideration to her claim for asylum, which was endorsed as legitimate by the UNHCR on Wednesday.

Canada's ambassador had seen her off at the airport, where Alqunun thanked everyone for helping her.

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Ms al-Qunun's case was referred to Australia by the United Nations' High Commission for Refugees who decided she was a genuine refugee.

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

While barricading herself in an airport hotel room, she launched a social media campaign via her Twitter account that drew global attention to her case.

Thailand's immigration police chief Surachate Hakparn had initially told CNN on Friday that Qunun had been offered asylum by both Australia and Canada.

Saudi Arabia responded by kicking out the Canadian ambassador, recalling the Saudi ambassador to Canada and all Saudi students studying in the country, and suspending flights as well as "all new businesses transactions and investments linked with Canada". Her father has denied both allegations.

"I survived from death", she said, reflecting that since the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Instabul she has feared for her own life. "He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes", Surachate said.

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