Canada gives asylum to 18-year-old Saudi woman who won world’s attention over desperate attempt to flee abusive family with escape to Thailand
REGINA — Canada granted asylum on Friday to the Saudi woman who won the world’s attention on social media in her desperate attempt to flee an abusive family after 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.
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.
The 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 called for the release of women’s rights activists who had been arrested in Saudi Arabia.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday that Canada would accept 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun as a refugee.