‘Brave’ Saudi teen ar­rives in Canada

For­eign af­fairs min­is­ter wel­comes 18-year-old who sought refugee sta­tus through so­cial me­dia


TORONTO—ASau­di­teen 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” ho odie and a blue hat em­bla­zoned with the logo of the or­ga­ni­za­tion that ar­ranged her re­set­tle­ment, smiled and waved at a group of re­porters, but of­fered no com­ment.

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 ,” Free land 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 ap­ply for a health card.

Calla said Alqu­nun has friends in Toronto who she will be meet­ing 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 Com­mis­sioner 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.

The move to ac­cept Alqu­nun could serve to heighten ten­sions be­tween Canada and Saudi Ara­bia. But Bessma Mo­mani, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Water­loo and an­a­lyst of Mid­dle-East­ern in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, said the re­la­tion­ship with the Saudi gov­ern­ment has de­te­ri­o­rated to the point where such ac­tions pose lit­tle po­lit­i­cal risk.

“There are a lot of gulf coun­tries that you could ... poke in the eye,” she said. “This one’s al­ready in such an abysmal state of re­la­tions that there’s no real po­lit­i­cal or diplo­matic harm to do.”


Refugee Ra­haf Mo­hammed Alqu­nun is greeted by Cana­dian For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chys­tia Free­land at Toronto’s Pear­son air­port Satur­day.


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