Canada comes to teen’s res­cue

Sunday Star-Times - - World -

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who said she was abused by her fam­ily and feared for her life if de­ported back home has left Thai­land for Canada, which has granted her asy­lum.

The fast-mov­ing de­vel­op­ments yes­ter­day capped an event­ful week for Ra­haf Mo­hammed Alqu­nun.

She fled her fam­ily while vis­it­ing Kuwait and flew to Bangkok, where she bar­ri­caded her­self in an air­port ho­tel to avoid de­por­ta­tion and grabbed global at­ten­tion by mount­ing a so­cial me­dia cam­paign for asy­lum.

Her case high­lighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Ara­bia, where sev­eral women flee­ing abuse by their fam­i­lies have been caught try­ing to seek asy­lum abroad in re­cent years and re­turned home. Hu­man rights ac­tivists say many sim­i­lar cases go un­re­ported.

Alqu­nun flew to Toronto via Seoul, ac­cord­ing to Thai im­mi­gra­tion Po­lice Chief Su­rachate Hak­parn.

Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau con­firmed that his coun­try had granted Alqu­nun asy­lum. ‘‘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 and to stand up for woman’s rights around the world, and I can con­firm that we have ac­cepted the UN’s re­quest,’’ Trudeau said.

Sev­eral other coun­tries, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, had been in talks with the United Na­tions’ refugee agency to ac­cept Alqu­nun, Su­rachate said. ‘‘She chose Canada. It’s her per­sonal de­ci­sion.’’

Canada’s am­bas­sador had seen her off at the air­port, Su­rachate said, adding that she looked happy and healthy.

She thanked ev­ery­one for help­ing her, he said, and added that the first thing she would do upon ar­rival in Canada would be to start learn­ing bet­ter English.

The of­fice of the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees wel­comed Canada’s de­ci­sion.

Alqu­nun was stopped on Jan­uary 5 at Bangkok’s Su­varn­ab­humi Air­port by im­mi­gra­tion po­lice, who de­nied her en­try and seized her pass­port.

She bar­ri­caded her­self in an air­port ho­tel room and called at­ten­tion to her plight on so­cial me­dia. It got enough pub­lic and diplo­matic sup­port that Thai of­fi­cials ad­mit­ted her tem­po­rar­ily un­der the pro­tec­tion of UN of­fi­cials, who granted her refugee sta­tus on Thurs­day.

Alqu­nun’s fa­ther ar­rived in Bangkok on Wed­nes­day, but his daugh­ter re­fused to meet him. Su­rachate said the fa­ther de­nied phys­i­cally abus­ing Alqu­nun or try­ing to force her into an ar­ranged mar­riage, which were among the rea­sons she gave for flee­ing.

He said Alqu­nun’s fa­ther wanted his daugh­ter back but re­spected her de­ci­sion. ‘‘He has 10 chil­dren. He said the daugh­ter might feel ne­glected some­times.’’

Canada’s de­ci­sion to grant her asy­lum could fur­ther upset the coun­try’s re­la­tions with Saudi Ara­bia.

In Au­gust, Saudi Ara­bia ex­pelled Canada’s am­bas­sador and with­drew its own am­bas­sador af­ter Canada’s For­eign Min­istry tweeted sup­port for women’s right ac­tivists who had been ar­rested. The Saudis also sold Cana­dian in­vest­ments and or­dered their cit­i­zens study­ing in Canada to leave.

‘‘Canada is a coun­try that un­der­stands how im­por­tant it is to stand up for hu­man rights.’’ Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau

Ra­haf Alqu­nun

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