Canada to ac­cept 18-year-old who fled fam­ily

Vancouver Sun - - FRONT PAGE - Mike Blanch­field

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.

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 woman.

“The story ends today,” said Su­rachate Hak­parn, the head of Thai­land’s im­mi­gra­tion bureau. “Ms. Ra­haf is go­ing to Canada as she wishes”

He said Alqu­nun left Thai­land on a flight en route to Toronto on Fri­day in good health and spir­its.

Alqu­nun bar­ri­caded her­self in an air­port ho­tel room and launched a Twit­ter cam­paign that drew global at­ten­tion to her case. Alqu­nun’s father and brother had de­nied any al­le­ga­tions of abuse.

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 the 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, Phil Robert­son, the deputy di­rec­tor of Hu­man Rights Watch’s Asia divi­sion, said from Bangkok.

Robert­son also praised the swift ac­tion of Don­ica Pot­tie, Canada’s am­bas­sador to Thai­land, for her early in­volve­ment in the case.

Ra­haf Mo­hammed Alqu­nun


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