Teenage Saudi refugee lands in Canada
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, the Saudi teenager who barricaded herself in a Thai hotel room in a desperate attempt to flee her family landed in Canada yesterday, capping a tumultuous and uncertain journey towards safety.
Qunun arrived in Toronto, the country’s largest city, tweeting “OMG … I’m in Canada everyone” and a video of her plane touching down at Pearson International airport.
Passing through the doors of the arrivals hall, she was accompanied by Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, Chrystia Freeland, a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia’s jailing of female dissidents. “This is Rahaf al-Qunun, a very brave new Canadian,” Freeland told reporters, holding on to Qunun, who was wearing a “Canada” sweatshirt.
Qunun had fled her family in Kuwait and had flown to Thailand, saying she had been abused by her relatives and feared for her life if deported. The 18-year-old’s fight against deportation from Thailand as she tried to claim asylum captivated a global audience through her Twitter account, which now has nearly 150,000 followers.
A number of countries had expressed interest in resettling Qunun, including Australia, which was her first choice – but it was Canada that acted quickly.
“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,” prime minister Justin Trudeau told reporters last week.
The head of Canada’s United Nations refugee office, Jean-Nicolas Beuze, tweeted his thanks to the country for “having acted swiftly in providing a long-term solution”.
“Women refugees at risk because of their gender are prioritised for resettlement and we know they can count on Canada,” he wrote.
Trudeau downplayed the symbolism of Canada’s offer to resettle the young woman: Canada and Saudi Arabia have been at odds over the conservative kingdom’s human rights record. Last summer, a tweet in Arabic, sent by Global Affairs Canada, set off a diplomatic row between the two nations, in which Canadian diplomats were expelled from the kingdom, Saudi students in Canada were recalled and the Saudi government sold Canadian equities and currency.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun in Toronto yesterday.