Canada grants asy­lum to Saudi teen flee­ing fam­ily

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - ROBERT FIFE OT­TAWA NATHAN VANDERKLIPPE BANGKOK With files from Reuters

Re­lo­cat­ing 18-year-old woman ‘is some­thing we are pleased to do,’ Prime Min­is­ter says

A young Saudi woman who is flee­ing abuse from her fam­ily in the oil-rich and con­ser­va­tive Is­lamic king­dom has been granted asy­lum in Canada.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau told re­porters on Fri­day that the United Na­tions Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion reached out to Canada to re­quest that 18-year old Ra­haf Mo­hammed al-Qu­nun be al­lowed to live in this coun­try.

“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,” Mr. Trudeau told a news con­fer­ence in Regina.

Ms. al-Qu­nun had es­caped from her fam­ily in Kuwait last Satur­day and flew to Thai­land to seek asy­lum, say­ing she feared her fam­ily would kill her if she re­turned to Saudi Ara­bia, where women are con­sid­ered sec­ond­class cit­i­zens.

“Canada will ac­cept her as a refugee,” Thai im­mi­gra­tion chief Ma­jor-Gen­eral Su­rachate Hak­parn told re­porters at the Su­varn­ab­humi Air­port in Bangkok, mo­ments after Ms. al-Qu­nun boarded a Korean Air flight for Seoul on her way to Toronto. “She said that as soon as she ar­rives in Canada, one of the first things she wants to do is learn the lan­guage. She has de­ter­mi­na­tion,” Mr. Su­rachate said.

Though Aus­tralia had in­di­cated it would con­sider a re­quest for asy­lum, Canada acted more quickly to ac­cept the young woman, the Thai im­mi­gra­tion chief said.

Phil Robert­son from Hu­man Rights Watch in Bangkok, who had a role in help­ing to get Ms. alQu­nun safely out of Thai­land, said Canada of­fered to grant asy­lum to the Saudi teen im­me­di­ately – some­thing Aus­tralia was un­will­ing to do.

Although Ms. al-Qu­nun has friends in Aus­tralia, that coun­try’s Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter, Peter Dut­ton, said she would be pro­cessed like any other refugee claimant and there would be no spe­cial treat­ment. “She needed to get out of Thai­land very quickly. Her brother and father were still here [Bangkok] and these were the peo­ple she feared,” Mr. Robert­son said in an in­ter­view. “The Thai gov­ern­ment was also very keen to have her moved as quickly as pos­si­ble, and the feel­ing was also that Saudi Ara­bia is a very in­flu­en­tial gov­ern­ment and it has lot of ca­pac­ity to pur­sue peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly women who could tar­nish their im­age if al­lowed to re­main free on an in­ter­na­tional stage.”

Her father and brother asked to see Ms. al-Qu­nun be­fore her de­par­ture, but she re­fused to meet them.

The decision to grant her asy­lum is likely to cause fur­ther strain in Canada’s re­la­tions with Saudi Ara­bia. In Au­gust, Saudi Ara­bia with­drew its en­voy in Ot­tawa, ex­pelled the Cana­dian am­bas­sador, suspended Saudi stateair­line flights to Toronto and pulled out thou­sands of stu­dents and med­i­cal pa­tients from Canada.

The diplo­matic dis­pute be­gan when For­eign Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land tweeted con­cerns about the news that sev­eral so­cial ac­tivists had been ar­rested in Saudi Ara­bia, in­clud­ing Sa­mar Badawi, a women’s rights ac­tivist. She is the sis­ter of im­pris­oned dis­si­dent blog­ger Raif Badawi, whose wife is a Cana­dian cit­i­zen and lives in Que­bec.

Ms. al-Qu­nun was stopped at a Bangkok air­port last Satur­day by Thai im­mi­gra­tion po­lice who de­nied her en­try and seized her pass­port.

She then bar­ri­caded her­self in an air­port ho­tel room and launched a so­cial-me­dia cam­paign through her Twit­ter ac­count that drew global at­ten­tion to her case. It gar­nered enough pub­lic and diplo­matic sup­port to con­vince Thai of­fi­cials to ad­mit her tem­po­rar­ily un­der the pro­tec­tion of the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees, which later granted her refugee sta­tus.

Ms. al-Qu­nun’s case has high­lighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Ara­bia. Sev­eral Saudi women flee­ing abuse by their fam­i­lies have been ap­pre­hended try­ing to seek asy­lum abroad in re­cent years and re­turned home.

SAKCHAI LALIT/AP

Although Aus­tralia had in­di­cated it would be will­ing to con­sider ad­mit­ting Ra­haf Mo­hammed al-Qu­nun, seen in Bangkok on Fri­day, Canada was will­ing to grant the 18-year-old asy­lum im­me­di­ately.

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