Woman fleeing abuse se­cures haven in Canada

San Francisco Chronicle - Late Edition (Sunday) - - WORLD - By Rob Gil­lies

TORONTO — Tired but smil­ing, an 18-year-old Saudi run­away who said she feared death if de­ported back home ar­rived Satur­day in Canada, which had 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, cap­ping a dra­matic week that saw her flee her fam­ily while vis­it­ing Kuwait and be­fore fly­ing to Bangkok. From 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.

“It was a plea­sure for me this morn­ing to wel­come her to her new home,” Free­land said. “She is ob­vi­ously very tired af­ter a long jour­ney and she pre­ferred to go and get set­tled. But it was Ra­haf ’s choice to come out and say hello to Cana­di­ans.”

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 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.

Su­rachate said her fa­ther — whose name has not been re­leased — de­nied phys­i­cally abus­ing Alqu­nun or try­ing to force her into an ar­ranged mar­riage, which were among the rea­sons she gave for her flight. He said Alqu­nun’s fa­ther wanted his daugh­ter back but re­spected her de­ci­sion.

Rob Gil­lies is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

Lars Hag­berg / AFP / Getty Im­ages

Cana­dian For­eign Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land (right) em­braces Ra­haf Mo­hammed Alqu­nun af­ter her ar­rival at Toronto’s air­port. Canada has of­fered the 18-year-old asy­lum.

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