Saudi woman fleeing alleged abuse heads for asylum in Canada
Bangkok: An 18-year-old Saudi woman who said she was abused by her family and feared for her life if deported back home left Thailand on Friday night for Canada, which has granted her asylum, officials said.
The fast-moving developments capped an eventful week for Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun. She fled her family while visiting Kuwait and flew to Bangkok, where she barricaded herself in an airport hotel to avoid deportation and grabbed global attention by mounting a social media campaign for asylum.
Her case highlighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, where several women fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home. Human rights activists say many similar cases go unreported.
Alqunun is flying to Toronto via Seoul, South Korea, according to Thai immigration Police Chief Surachate Hakparn. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed his country had granted her asylum.
“That is something that we are pleased to do because Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights and to stand up for woman’s rights around the world and I can confirm that we have accepted the UN’s request,” Trudeau said.
Several other countries, including Australia, had been in talks with the U.N.’s refugee agency to accept Alqunun, Surachate said earlier in the day.
“She chose Canada. It’s her personal decision,” he said.
Canada’s ambassador had seen her off at the airport, Surachate said, adding that she looked happy and healthy.
She thanked everyone for helping her, he said, and added that the first thing she would do upon arrival in Canada would be to start learning the language. She already speaks more than passable English, in addition to Arabic.
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees welcomed Canada’s decision.
“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 Ms. Alqunun and arranging her travel were key to the successful resolution of this case,” the agency said in a statement.
It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted Alqunon to choose Canada over Australia. Australian media reported that UNHCR had withdrawn its referral for Alqunon to be resettled in Australia because Canberra was taking too long to decide on her asylum.
UNHCR officials were not immediately available for comment. Australia’s Education Minister Dan Tehan said Saturday that Australia had moved quickly to process her case but Canada decided to take her in. He added that, ultimately, the outcome was a good one. “She’s going to be safe,” he said.