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Saudi woman fleeing alleged abuse heads for asylum in Canada

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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 Australian media reported that UNHCR had withdrawn its referral for Alqunon to be resettled in Australia because Canberra was taking too long to decide on her asylum.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.


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Pakistan rules out India’s role in Afghan peace process

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Islamabad: Pakistan has ruled out any role for India in the Afghan peace process, the media reported on Friday.

“India has no role in Afghanistan,” Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said at the weekly media briefing on Thursday while responding to a query about Islamabad’s position on New Delhi’s part in the reconciliation process.

Faisal acknowledged that Pakistan has a difficult relationship with India, saying that despite Pakistan’s efforts for normalisation, no concrete progress could be achieved in ties with India, Dawn news reported.

 

“You all know that India is not willing to engage with Pakistan,” he reminded.

Faisal’s remarks were in sharp contrast to what Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had told the National Assembly last month.

“Since India is present in Afghanistan, its cooperation in this regard (facilitating a negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict) will also be required,” he had told legislators.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan on Thursday to discuss with the senior civil and military leadership the latest efforts to bring peace to the war-torn country.

Khalilzad, who met Taliban representatives last month in Abu Dhabi, is leading an inter-agency delegation to India, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan from January 8-21 to “facilitate a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan”.

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US, India in talks over strategic missile defence cooperation: Pentagon

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Washington: The Trump administration has discussed a potential missile defence cooperation with India as part of its effort to deepen the bilateral strategic partnership, the Pentagon has said, asserting that New Delhi is a “key element” in America’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

The Pentagon’s announcement in the 81-page ”Missile Defence Review” report released by President Donald Trump gains significance in view of India placing a USD 5 billion order to purchase S-400 air defence system from Russia, for which the US had publicly expressed its displeasure.

Noting that the threats posed by offensive missile capabilities are no longer limited to a few regions around the world, the Pentagon in its report said there were now a number of countries in South Asia that are developing an advanced and diverse range of ballistic and cruise missile capabilities.

 

“Within this context, the United States has discussed potential missile defence cooperation with India. This is a natural outgrowth of India’s status as a Major Defence Partner and key element of our Indo-Pacific Strategy,” said the Pentagon report on Thursday.

The report, which identifies missile development projects by Russia and China as major threats to the US, did not give any further details about its potential missile defence cooperation with India.

The US has shown reluctance to offer its missile defence system to India.

Given the tough neighbourhood that India is in, New Delhi several years ago had approached US and expressed its desire to acquire a missile defence system from it, particularly the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system popular as THAAD.

The previous Obama administration was not very forthcoming in sharing its advance missile defence system with India, following which New Delhi went ahead to procure it from Russia.

As part of its Indo-Pacific strategy, the Trump administration now seems to be more than inclined to let India procure its missile defence system with talks between the two countries having already started.

“We will deepen our strategic partnership with India and support its leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region,” said the 2017 National Security Strategy of the US, which has been mentioned in the Pentagon report.

The Missile Defence Review report said that the cornerstone of US’ security and diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific region is its strong bilateral alliances with Japan, South Korea and Australia, and emerging security relationships with others such as India.

Japan and South Korea are working with the US to build missile defence systems that are increasingly interoperable with American defences and increasingly capable against regional offensive missile threats and coercion.

This cooperation includes bilateral missile defence training exercises with the US.

Australia participates in a trilateral discussion on missile defence with the US and Japan. The US and Australia meet annually to discuss bilateral missile defence cooperation. New areas of focus include joint examination of the challenges posed by advanced missile threats, it said.

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400 migrants detained after crossing under fence into US

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Washington: Nearly 400 migrants burrowed under a fence on the US-Mexico border earlier this week and crossed into the US, informed sources told CNN. US Border Patrol officers stationed in Yuma, Arizona, took about 375 migrants into custody after they had made it into the US, the officials said on Thursday, calling it an unusually large apprehension.

It was not immediately clear if the migrants voluntarily surrendered to Border Patrol officials or if they were caught after attempting to evade authorities. The “vast majority” of the group were family members arriving from Guatemala, said National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd.

“It`s the largest I`ve ever heard of,” said Judd when asked if this was a significant number for a single group. There are often groups of 20 to 30 people, sometimes as large as 100, apprehended in the Yuma area, according to a Customs and Border Protection official.

 

The incident comes as President Donald Trump continues to demand funding for new barrier construction on the US-Mexico border as the government shutdown entered its 27th day , saying there was a “crisis” at the border that can only be solved with the construction of new border walls or fencing.

In November, a group of around 80 migrants from Guatemala — primarily families — were apprehended by Border Patrol after climbing over the legacy landing mat border wall east of the San Luis Port of Entry.

Hours later, another group of around 80 people entered the US by digging a shallow hole underneath the same portion of the wall, according to CBP. There has been a recent spike in total Border Patrol apprehensions in Yuma, up from 2,117 in fiscal year 2017 to 26,244 last year.

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