Saudi woman flee­ing al­leged abuse ex­pected in Canada

Sun.Star Pampanga - - WORLD! -

TORONTO (AP) — An 18year-old Saudi run­away who said she was abused and feared death if de­ported back home was ex­pected to ar­rive Saturday in Canada, which has granted her asy­lum.

Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau said Canada would ac­cept Ra­haf Mo­hammed Alqu­nun as a refugee, cap­ping a dra­matic week that saw her flee her fam­ily while vis­it­ing Kuwait and be­fore fly­ing to Bangkok, where she bar­ri­caded her­self in an air­port ho­tel to avoid de­por­ta­tion. The case grabbed global at­ten­tion after she mounted a so­cial me­dia cam­paign for asy­lum.

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

“Canada has been un­equiv­o­cal,” Trudeau said. “We will al­ways stand up for hu­man rights and women’s rights around the world.”

Alqu­nun is fly­ing to Toronto via Seoul, South Korea, ac­cord­ing to Thai im­mi­gra­tion Po­lice Chief Su­rachate Hak­parn. Alqu­nun tweeted two pic­tures from her plane seat — one with what ap­pears to be a glass of wine and her pass­port and an­other hold­ing her pass­port while on the plane with the hastag “I did it”and the emo­jis show­ing plane, hearts and wine glass.

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 to the king­dom 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.

No coun­try, in­clud­ing the U.S., spoke out pub­licly in sup­port of Canada in that spat with the Saudis.

On Fri­day, Trudeau avoided an­swer­ing a ques­tion about what the case would mean for re­la­tions with the king­dom, but he said Canada is pleased to give her asy­lum 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.

Cana­dian of­fi­cials were re­luc­tant to com­ment fur­ther un­til she landed safely.

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

“The quick ac­tions over the past week of the govern­ment of Thailand in pro­vid­ing tem­po­rary refuge and fa­cil­i­tat­ing refugee sta­tus de­ter­mi­na­tion by UNHCR, and of the govern­ment of Canada in of­fer­ing emer­gency re­set­tle­ment to Ms. Alqu­nun and ar­rang­ing her travel were key to the suc­cess­ful res­o­lu­tion of this case,” the agency said in a state­ment .

Sev­eral other coun­tries, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, had been in talks with the U.N.’s refugee agency to ac­cept Alqu­nun, Su­rachate said.

“She chose Canada. It’s her personal de­ci­sion,” he said.

It wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear what prompted Alqunon to choose Canada over Aus­tralia. Aus­tralian me­dia re­ported that UNHCR had with­drawn its re­fer­ral for Alqunon to be re­set­tled in Aus­tralia be­cause Can­berra was tak­ing too long to de­cide on her asy­lum.

“When re­fer­ring cases with spe­cific vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties who need im­me­di­ate re­set­tle­ment, we at­tach great im­por­tance to the speed at which coun­tries con­sider and process cases,” a UNHCR spokesper­son in Bangkok told The As­so­ci­ated Press in an email re­ply on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause the per­son wasn’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the case pub­licly.

Ra­haf Mo­hammed Alqu­nun, right, walks with an uniden­ti­fied com­pan­ion in Bangkok, Thailand, Fri­day, Jan. 11, 2019. Alqu­nun, the 18-year old Saudi woman who fled her fam­ily to seek asy­lum, re­mains in Thailand un­der the care of the U.N. refugee agency as she awaits a de­ci­sion by a third coun­try to ac­cept her as a refugee. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

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