Saudi teen set­tles in Canada

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD -

A“VERY, very happy” Saudi teenager who caused a sen­sa­tion by de­fy­ing her fam­ily and seek­ing asy­lum abroad was wel­comed with open arms in Toronto on Satur­day at the end of a dra­matic but ex­haust­ing in­ter­na­tional odyssey.

Cana­dian Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs Chrys­tia Free­land greeted Ra­haf Mo­hammed al-Qu­nun after she landed in Toronto, wear­ing a skirt, a grey hoodie em­bla­zoned in red with the word “CANADA” and a blue cap with the logo of the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Smil­ing broadly, the 18 year old posed for pho­tog­ra­phers with Free­land at her side, but made no state­ment.

Later, she tweeted a video of her ar­rival, with the com­ment: “I love Canada I love you all.”

Free­land said Qu­nun “wanted Cana­di­ans to see that she’s here, that she’s well and that she is very, very happy to be in her new home”.

“She had a prett y long jour­ney and is ex hausted and prefers not to ta ke ques­tions for the mo­ment,” the diplo­matic chief added, with an arm around Qu­nun’s shoul­der.

She was taken in by Toronto-based refugee group Costi, a spokes­woman said.

Shortly after her ar­rival, Qu­nun went shop­ping for some warm clothes in cen­tral On­tario, ac­cord­ing to the spokesman.

In the com­ing days, Costi rep­re­sen­ta­tives will help her open a bank ac­count and per­form var­i­ous ad­min­is­tra­tive tasks be­fore find­ing her a per­ma­nent home.

In the mean­time, she is stay­ing in a fa­cil­ity con­stantly un­der guard. Costi has rec­om­mended Qu­nun that she avoid shar­ing her ad­dress.

A trail of tweets

Qu­nun cap­tured the world’s at­ten­tion with a trail of Twit­ter posts that ig­nited a #SaveRa­haf move­ment as she fled what she said was phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse from her fam­ily in ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive Saudi Ara­bia.

Rights groups a lso said she had re­nounced Is­lam, risk­ing pros­e­cu­tion in Saudi Ara­bia. Her fam­ily has de­nied the abuse al­le­ga­tions.

The pub­lic­ity thwarted an at­tempt to de­port her to Saudi Ara­bia after she ar­rived in Bangkok on a flight from Kuwait a week ago, with Thai au­thor­i­ties in­stead turn­ing her over to the UN’s refugee agency.

Then on Fri­day, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau made the sur­prise an­nounce­ment that Canada would wel­come her.

Free­land said that in grant­ing Qu­nun asy­lum, Canada was “stand­ing up for hu­man rights around the world, and we be­lieve very strongly that women’s rights are hu­man rights”.

The move is sure to fur­ther strain Canada’s re­la­tions with the king­dom. Ties went side­ways last Au­gust over Ot­tawa’s rights crit­i­cism of Saudi Ara­bia, prompt­ing Riyadh to ex­pel the Cana­dian am­bas­sador and sever all trade and in­vest­ment ties in protest.

Qu­nun’s at­tempt to flee Saudi Ara­bia was em­braced by rights groups as a bea­con of de­fi­ance against re­pres­sion.

“Ms al-Qu­nun’s plight has cap­tured the world’s at­ten­tion over the past few days, pro­vid­ing a glimpse into the pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion of mil­lions of refugees world­wide,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees.

Qu­nun first said she was aim­ing for Aus­tralia. But late on Fri­day, Thai­land’s im­mi­gra­tion po­lice chief Su­rachate Hak­parn said a smil­ing and cheer­ful Ra­haf was bound for Toronto.

“The only coun­try that re­ally helped me in the end was Canada,” Qu­nun said after ar­riv­ing in Toronto. “The rest were afraid and cow­ards.”

In a tweet, the UNHCR said: “We wel­come Ra­haf’s ar­rival in Canada and the Cana­dian Gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to pro­vide pro­tec­tion and a long-term so­lu­tion for her there as a re­set­tled refugee.”

On Fri­day, Qu­nun posted a cryp­tic tweet on her pro­file say­ing: “I have some good news and some bad news.” Her ac­count was de­ac­ti­vated shortly after­ward in re­sponse to death threats she had faced, her friends said.

But she was back on­line later in the day, tweet­ing: “I would like to thank you peo­ple for sup­port­ing me and sav­ing my life.”

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