Run­away Saudi teen set­tles in Canada af­ter be­ing granted asy­lum

The Borneo Post (Sabah) - - WORLD -

TORONTO, Canada: A ‘very, very happy’ Saudi teenager who caused a sen­sa­tion by de­fy­ing her fam­ily and seek­ing asy­lum abroad was wel­comed with open arms in Toronto Satur­day at the end of a dra­matic but ex­haust­ing in­ter­na­tional odyssey.

For­eign Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land greeted Ra­haf Mo­hammed al-Qu­nun af­ter she landed in Toronto, wear­ing a skirt, a gray hoodie em­bla­zoned in red with the word ‘CANADA’ and a blue cap with the logo of the United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Smil­ing broadly, the 18-yearold posed for pho­tog­ra­phers with Free­land at her side, but made no state­ment.

Later, she tweeted a video of her ar­rival, with the com­ment: “I love Canada I love you all.” Free­land said Qu­nun “wanted Cana­di­ans to see that she’s here, that she’s well and that she is very, very happy to be in her new home.”

“She had a pretty long jour­ney and is ex­hausted and prefers not to take ques­tions for the mo­ment,” the diplo­matic chief added, with an arm around Qu­nun’s shoul­der.

She was taken in by Toron­to­based refugee group Costi, a spokes­woman said.

Shortly af­ter her ar­rival, Qu­nun went shop­ping for some warm clothes in cen­tral On­tario, ac­cord­ing to the spokesman, not­ing the teenager knows sev­eral peo­ple there and con­tacted them.

In the com­ing days, Costi rep­re­sen­ta­tives will help her open a bank ac­count and per­form var­i­ous administrative tasks be­fore find­ing her a per­ma­nent home.

In the mean­time, she is stay­ing in a fa­cil­ity con­stantly un­der guard. Costi has recommended Qu­nun that she avoid shar­ing her ad­dress.

The ar­rival in Canada marks the epi­logue of an in­ter­na­tional saga.

Qu­nun cap­tured the world’s at­ten­tion with a trail of Twit­ter posts that ig­nited a #SaveRa­haf move­ment as she fled what she said was phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse from her fam­ily in ul­tra­con­ser­va­tive Saudi Ara­bia.

Rights groups also said she had re­nounced Is­lam, risk­ing pros­e­cu­tion in Saudi Ara­bia. Her fam­ily has de­nied the abuse al­le­ga­tions.

The pub­lic­ity thwarted an at­tempt to de­port her to Saudi Ara­bia af­ter she ar­rived in Bangkok on a flight from Kuwait a week ago, with Thai au­thor­i­ties in­stead turn­ing her over to the UN’s refugee agency.

Then on Fri­day, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau made the sur­prise an­nounce­ment that Canada would wel­come her.

Free­land said that in grant­ing Qu­nun asy­lum, Canada was ‘stand­ing up for hu­man rights around the world, and we be­lieve very strongly that women’s rights are hu­man rights.’

The move is sure to fur­ther strain Canada’s re­la­tions with the king­dom. Ties went side­ways last Au­gust over Ot­tawa’s rights crit­i­cism of Saudi Ara­bia, prompt­ing Riyadh to ex­pel the Cana­dian am­bas­sador and sever all trade and in­vest­ment ties in protest.

Canada also sparked fury in Riyadh by de­mand­ing the ‘im­me­di­ate re­lease’ of jailed rights cam­paign­ers, in­clud­ing Sa­mar Badawi, the sis­ter of jailed blog­ger Raif Badawi, whose fam­ily lives in Que­bec.

Qu­nun’s at­tempt to flee Saudi Ara­bia was em­braced by rights groups as a bea­con of de­fi­ance against re­pres­sion.

“Ms al-Qu­nun’s plight has cap­tured the world’s at­ten­tion over the past few days, pro­vid­ing a glimpse into the pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion of mil­lions of refugees world­wide,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees.

“Refugee pro­tec­tion to­day is of­ten un­der threat and can­not al­ways be as­sured, but in this in­stance in­ter­na­tional refugee law and over­rid­ing val­ues of hu­man­ity have pre­vailed.” Raif Badawi’s wife En­saf Haidar also praised Canada, call­ing Free­land on Twit­ter ‘the real hero’ be­hind ef­forts to pre­vent Qu­nun’s repa­tri­a­tion to Saudi Ara­bia.

Qu­nun first said she was aim­ing for Aus­tralia. But late Fri­day, Thai­land’s im­mi­gra­tion po­lice chief Su­rachate Hak­parn said a smil­ing and cheer­ful Ra­haf was bound for Toronto.

In a tweet, the UNHCR said: “We wel­come Ra­haf’s ar­rival in Canada and the Cana­dian Gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to pro­vide pro­tec­tion and a long-term so­lu­tion for her there as a re­set­tled refugee.” – AFP

Qu­nun ar­rives at Toronto Pear­son In­ter­na­tional Air­port.— Reuters photo

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