Saudi teen Rahaf Alqunun granted asylum in Canada, Justin Trudeau confirms

Frederick Owens
January 11, 2019

Several countries including Canada and Australia are in talks with the United Nations refugee agency to accept a Saudi asylum seeker who fled alleged abuse from her family, Thai police said Friday.

Trudeau says the United Nations High Commission on Refugees made a request of Canada that it take Alqunun as a refugee and Canada accepted as part of its commitment to stand up for women's rights around the world.

Ms al-Qunun previously said on her Twitter account that she wished to seek refuge in Australia.

Still Tamara Wood, a lecturer in forced migration at the University of New South Wales, said the speed with which her case is being treated appears quick, but "not unprecedented".

She then started a social media campaign, live-tweeting her case and attracting global attention.

Fleeing them while travelling in Kuwait throws her into conflict with Saudi Arabia's "guardianship" system, which allows male family members to make decisions on behalf of female relatives, she said.

A Tuesday statement from the Saudi Embassy in Thailand denied interfering in Alqunun's case, and said it was only monitoring her situation.

Alqunun's father and brother, who denied any allegations of abuse, travelled to Thailand and attempted to meet her, but Hakparn said as of Friday morning she had refused the meeting.

She then barricaded herself inside a hotel room, posting live updates on social media in which she said she feared for her life should she be forcibly returned to her family. "I do note that there are legal proceedings underway in relation to, and Australia will continue to be in very close contact with Thai authorities in relation to this".

"She will fly to Canada at 11:15 pm tonight (1615 GMT)", immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told AFP.

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Thai authorities initially threatened to deport her after she arrived in Bangkok from Kuwait last weekend.

Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun (centre) is escorted by a Thai Immigration Chief Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn (right) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials at Suvarnabhumi worldwide airport in Bangkok on Monday.

She was taken into the care of the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, and Australia's department of home affairs announced that her case had been referred to officials in Canberra.

As a Saudi woman who has publicly scorned her family, experts say she ticks many boxes. In downtown Sydney on Thursday, four women dressed in jeans and calling themselves the Secret Sisterhood held a topless protest outside the building housing the Saudi Consulate, calling on Australia to grant Alqunun residency.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun's attempt to flee the ultra-conservative kingdom has been embraced by rights groups as a beacon of defiance against repression.

"She's just been receiving a lot of death threats", McNeill wrote, adding that Alqunun would be back on Twitter after a "short break".

Qunun's Twitter account was no longer active on Friday.

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with senior Thai officials in Bangkok, where Ms al-Qunun is now located, on Thursday.

"Another young Saudi girl - another genuine refugee - was dragged back from an airport to Saudi Arabia to a presumably awful fate while trying to escape the country in 2017".

Other reports by LeisureTravelAid

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