Canada grants asy­lum to run­away Saudi woman

18-year-old pleaded for help on Twit­ter after flee­ing abu­sive fam­ily

Penticton Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

OT­TAWA — Canada granted asy­lum on Fri­day to the Saudi woman who won the world’s at­ten­tion on so­cial me­dia as she fled an abu­sive fam­ily after es­cap­ing to Thai­land.

Prime Min­is­ter

Justin Trudeau an­nounced that Canada would ac­cept 18-yearold 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.

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.

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 dur­ing a press con­fer­ence in Regina that the United Na­tions High Com­mis­sion for Refugees asked Canada to take Alqu­nun as a refugee, and Canada 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.

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.

“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 post­ings 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 photo of her be­hind a door bar­ri­caded with a mat­tress was seen around the world.

The Trudeau gov­ern­ment’s decision is sure to fur­ther strain Canada’s re­la­tions with Saudi Ara­bia. In Au­gust, Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Salman ex­pelled Canada’s am­bas­sador and with­drew his own en­voy after For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land used Twit­ter to call for the re­lease of women’s rights ac­tivists who had been ar­rested in Saudi Ara­bia.

The Saudis also sold Cana­dian in­vest­ments and re­called their stu­dents from uni­ver­si­ties in Canada.

Trudeau ap­peared un­fazed by the pos­si­bil­ity of ill ef­fects on Canada’s re­la­tions with Saudi Ara­bia.

“Canada has been un­equiv­o­cal,” he said. “We will al­ways stand up for hu­man rights and women’s rights around the world. This is part of a long tra­di­tion of Canada en­gag­ing con­struc­tively and pos­i­tively in the world and work­ing with our part­ners, al­lies and with the United Na­tions. And when the United Na­tions made a re­quest of us that we grant Ms. Alqu­nun asy­lum, we ac­cepted.”

Alqu­nun had pre­vi­ously said on Twit­ter that she wished to seek refuge in Aus­tralia.

But Aus­tralian Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton told re­porters on Wed­nes­day that Alqu­nun wouldn’t get any “spe­cial treat­ment” and was no dif­fer­ent from any other sim­i­lar case.

Dut­ton’s com­ments, cou­pled with the ar­rival of Alqu­nun’s father and brother in Bangkok, height­ened the ur­gency to find a safe haven for her, said Phil Robert­son, the deputy di­rec­tor of Hu­man Rights Watch’s Asia divi­sion.

“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,” said Robert­son. “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.”


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.