Woman who fled Saudi reaches new home in Canada

The Philippine Star - - WORLD NEWS -

TORONTO (AP) — Tired but smil­ing, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who said she feared death if de­ported back home ar­rived Satur­day in Canada, which of­fered her asy­lum in a case that at­tracted global at­ten­tion af­ter she mounted a social me­dia cam­paign.

”This is Ra­haf Alqu­nun, a very brave new Cana­dian,” For­eign Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land said arm-in-arm with the Saudi woman in Toronto’s air­port.

Ra­haf Mo­hammed Alqu­nun smiled broadly as she ex­ited an air­port ar­rival door sport­ing a Canada zip­per hoodie and a UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees hat, cap­ping a dra­matic week that saw her flee her fam­ily while vis­it­ing Kuwait and be­fore fly­ing to Bangkok. Once there, she bar­ri­caded her­self in an air­port hotel to avoid de­por­ta­tion and tweeted about her sit­u­a­tion.

On Fri­day, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau an­nounced that Canada would ac­cept Alqu­nun as a refugee. Her sit­u­a­tion has 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.

Free­land said Alqu­nun pre­ferred not to take ques­tions Satur­day.

”She is ob­vi­ously very tired af­ter a long jour­ney and she pre­ferred to go and get set­tled,” Free­land said.

“But it was Ra­haf’s choice to come out and say hello to Cana­di­ans. She wanted Cana­di­ans to see that she’s here, that she’s well and that she’s very happy to be in her new home.”

Af­ter ar­riv­ing 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 ap­ply­ing for a health card.

Calla said Alqu­nun has friends in Toronto who she would be meet­ing up with this week­end.

”She did com­ment to me about the cold,” Free­land said.”

“It does get warmer,” Free­land said she told her.

Alqu­nun flew 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 hash­tag “I did it” and the emo­jis show­ing a plane, hearts and a 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.


Ra­haf Mo­hammed Alqu­nun (cen­ter) stands with Cana­dian For­eign Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land (right) as she ar­rives at Toronto Pear­son In­ter­na­tional Air­port on Satur­day.

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