Published: Mon, January 14, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Saudi teen lands in Canada after fleeing family

Saudi teen lands in Canada after fleeing family

She accused her family of abuse and refused to meet her father and brother who sought to take her back to Saudi Arabia.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed his country would be taking in Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun.

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family and sought asylum when she arrived in Thailand will leave Bangkok for Canada on Friday, a Thai immigration official said.

A spokesman for Canada's foreign minister said he could not confirm she was coming to Canada.

Sophie McNeill, a reporter with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who has had exclusive access to al-Qunun, said Friday that al-Qunun shut down her Twitter account, but is "safe and fine".

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

The statement said the "fast-track" mechanism that allowed for al-Qunun to come to Canada so quickly "is available only to a fraction of the world's 25.4 million refugees, typically those at greatest risk, such as women at risk".

"I'm in real danger because the Saudi embassy trying to forcing [sic] me to go back to Saudi Arabia, while I'm at the airport waiting for my second flight", she said in one of her first tweets.

But late Friday Thailand's immigration police chief said she was bound for Canada.

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.

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The source, who was not authorized to speak about Canada's role in Qunun's case, said the government would not make any public comment until it was assured that she was safely in the country.

Earlier, Thai police said several countries including Canada and Australia were in talks with the United Nations refugee agency on accepting Miss al-Qunun, and that the United Nations was accelerating the case.

Thai authorities initially threatened to deport her after she arrived in Bangkok from Kuwait last weekend. The UNHCR granted her refugee status, and Australia's Department of Home Affairs told NPR that Australia would "consider this referral [for refugee resettlement] in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals".

"Canada will always stand up for human rights, very much including women's rights". The man took her passport and said he would help her gain entry to Thailand.

Rahaf al-Qunun's plight garnered worldwide attention after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok, Thailand hotel.

She documented her arrival and subsequent detention in Bangkok on her smartphone, creating new Twitter and Periscope accounts where she received a deluge of supportive messages.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees granted her refugee status on Wednesday.

The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees welcomed Canada's decision.

In August, Riyadh expelled Canada's ambassador and withdrew its own envoy from Canada after Canada's Foreign Ministry tweeted support for women's rights activists arrested in the kingdom.

Rahaf's quest also prompted online vitriol and death threats that made her deactivate her Twitter account after posting her last update. Several female Saudis fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum overseas in recent years and returned home. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going.

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