Saudi teen who escaped family lands in Canada

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun finally arrives in Toronto and granted asylum by Canada after a long journey to get away from family

Rahad Mohammed al-Qunun at Toronto airport
Rahad Mohammed al-Qunun at Toronto airport

The Saudi woman who barricaded herself in a Thai hotel room in a desperate attempt to flee abuse landed in Canada on Saturday, capping a tumultuous and uncertain journey towards safety.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun arrived in Toronto, the country’s largest city. As she entered the airport’s arrivals area, she was accompanied by Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, Chrystia Freeland, who has been a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia's jailing of female dissidents.

“This is Rahaf al-Qunun, a very brave new Canadian,” Freeland told reporters, holding on to al-Qunun, who was wearing a “Canada” sweatshirt.

The 18-year-old’s fight against deportation from Thailand as she tried to claim asylum captivated a global audience through her Twitter account, which had 157,000 followers as of Saturday.

A number of countries had expressed interest in resettling al-Qunun, including Australia, which was her first choice – but it was Canada that acted quickly.

“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, to stand up for women’s rights around the world,” the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said on Friday.

The head of Canada’s United Nations refugee office, Jean-Nicolas Beuze, tweeted his thanks to the country for “having acted swiftly in providing a long-term solution”.

“Women refugees at risk because of their gender are prioritised for resettlement & we know they can count on Canada,” he wrote.

Trudeau downplayed the symbolism of Canada’s offer to resettle the young woman; Canada and Saudi Arabia have been at odds over the past year over the conservative kingdom’s human rights record.

Last summer, a tweet in Arabic, sent by Global Affairs Canada, set off a diplomatic row between the two nations, in which Canadian diplomats were expelld from the kingdom, Saudi students in Canada were recalled and the Saudi government sold numerous Canadian equities and currency holdings.

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