Rahaf al-Qunun: Saudi teen refugee arrives in Canada

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, the 18-year-old woman who captured worldwide attention after escaping from her family and barricading herself in a hotel room in Thailand, was granted asylum by Canada on Friday.

Ms Qunun first said she was aiming for Australia where officials had suggested they would give serious consideration to her claim for asylum, which was endorsed as legitimate by the UNHCR on Wednesday.

Canadian diplomats in the Thai capital were immediately seized with Alqunun's plight, and though she originally said she wanted to go to Australia, it became clear in the past week that Canada represented her quickest path to freedom.

Previously, several countries including Canada and Australia were in talks with the United Nations refugee agency in Bangkok on accepting Qunun.

"This is Rahaf Alqunun", Freeland said, "And she wants Canadians to see that she's arrived at her new home". But she soon started posting messages on Twitter from the transit area of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport saying she had "escaped Kuwait" and her life would be in danger if forced to return to Saudi Arabia.

Her flight from Seoul, South Korea, landed a day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his government would accept Alqunun as a refugee.

Upon her arrival at the Toronto airport, Qunun, wearing a Canada hoodie and a UN High Commission for Refugees cap, posed for photographs with Canadian Minister for Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, but did not make a statement.

Ms Qunun's attempt to flee the ultra-conservative kingdom was embraced by rights groups as a beacon of defiance against repression.

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 almost 150,000 followers.

Yesterday afternoon, she posted a final cryptic tweet on her profile saying: "I have some good news and some bad news". After a brief appearance, she was taken back into the airport terminal.

Alqunun had been on vacation with her family in Kuwait earlier this month when she ran away and took a flight to Bangkok, NPR reports.

Her father, who arrived in Bangkok not long before she left, has denied those allegations. Riyadh expelled Canada's ambassador a year ago and recalled its own top diplomat in Ottawa after Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland criticized the jailing of two Saudi women activists. She later said Australia was assessing Qunun's resettlement request. "Truly I have never dreamed of this love and support".

Despite the frosty relationship, however, Trudeau has so far resisted calls to suspend a multi-billion-dollar deal to send Canadian-made weapons to Saudi Arabia.

Earlier, Gen Surachate told reporters Friday that "two or three" countries were ready to offer her asylum.

"We believe very strongly that woman's rights are human rights", Freeland said.


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