‘Brave new Canadian’ welcomed as Saudi teen lands in T.O.
A Saudi teen described as a “brave new Canadian” by an official from the government that granted her refugee status as she fled her allegedly abusive family is en route to her new home, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister said Saturday.
Chrystia Freeland appeared alongside 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun with her arm around the teen as she appeared briefly at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
Alqunun, fresh off a flight from Seoul, South Korea, and sporting a grey “Canada” hoodie and a blue hat emblazened with the logo of the organization that arranged her resttlement, smiled and waved at a group of reporters, but offered no comment on her arrival.
Freeland, however, heaped praise on the young woman who shot to fame through her social media campaign to flee her family.
“It was a pleasure for me this morning to welcome to her new home a very brave new Canadian,” Freeland said. “... she wanted Canadians to see that she’s here, that she’s well, and that she’s very, very happy to be in her new home, although she did comment to me about the cold.”
“It does get warmer,” Freeland said she told her.
She was off to get winter clothes, said Mario Calla, executive director of COSTI Immigrant Services, which is helping her settle in temporary housing and applying for a health card.
Calla said Alqunun has friends in Toronto that she will be meeting up with this weekend.
Alqunun gained international prominence when she fled her family last week while visiting Kuwait and flew to Bangkok, where she barricaded herself in an airport hotel and launched a Twitter campaign outlining allegations of abuse against her relatives.
Alqunun said her father physically abused her and tried to force her into an arranged marriage.
Her father, who arrived in Bangkok not long before she left, has denied those allegations.
“I’m the girl who ran away to Thailand. I’m now in real danger because the Saudi Embassy is trying to force me to return,” said an English translation of one of her first posts to Twitter. Alqunun also wrote that she was afraid and that her family would kill her if she were returned home.
The Twitter hashtag #SaveRahaf ensued, and a photograph of her behind a door barricaded with a mattress was seen around the world.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday that the United Nations
High Commissionner for Refugees asked the federal government to allow Alqunun to settle in Canada, and Ottawa agreed.
“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,” Trudeau said.
Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun is welcomed by MP Chrystia Freeland at Toronto Pearson airport yesterday.