Teenage Saudi refugee lands in Canada

The Observer - - World - Ley­land Cecco

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.

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