Saudi woman fleeing abuse wins asylum in Canada
OTTAWA • Canada granted asylum on Friday to the Saudi woman who gained the world’s attention on social media as she fled an abusive family by escaping to Thailand.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would accept 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun as a refugee after she was stopped last Saturday at Bangkok airport by immigration police.
Police denied her entry and seized her passport, while her brother and father travelled to Thailand to take her back to Saudi Arabia.
Alqunun fled from her family while on holiday in Kuwait. Alqunun’s father and brother had denied any allegations of abuse,
Trudeau brushed aside suggestions that the move might complicate already strained relations with Saudi Arabia, while the organization Human Rights Watch praised Canada for acting swiftly to provide sanctuary to a vulnerable young woman.
“The story ends today,” said the head of Thailand’s immigration bureau, Surachate Hakparn. “Ms. Rahaf is going to Canada as she wishes”
He said Alqunun left Thailand on a flight en route to Toronto on Friday night. She was in good health and spirits, he said, and had a “smiling face.”
Alqunun barricaded herself in an airport hotel room and launched a Twitter campaign that drew global attention to her case. Canadian diplomats in the Thai capital were seized with her plight immediately, and though Alqunun originally said she wanted to reach Australia, it became clear in the past week that Canada represented her quickest path to freedom.
Trudeau announced in Regina that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees asked Canada to take Alqunun as a refugee, and Canada agreed. Alqunun’s case once again shone a spotlight on the state of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
Many Saudi women fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home.
Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said: “There was the uncertain aspect of her father and her brother — the people she feared most — still being here, still being in Bangkok and still being present. There was a great deal of worry about that. That something might happen.
“That was actually one of the reasons why the original idea that she might be going to Australia was switched to go to Canada, because Canada was prepared to act much quicker and really make this happen.”
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun