Saudi Woman Flying to Asylum in Canada

Arturo Kim
January 12, 2019

"I'm now in real danger because the Saudi embassy is trying to force me to return", she wrote in her first tweet.

Thai authorities allowed her to enter the country on Monday and the United Nations refugee agency later referred her case to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement.

After the 18-year-old refused officials' attempts to have her board a flight from the Thai capital to Kuwait on Monday, she barricaded herself inside an airport hotel room and took to social media to start a campaign that ended up garnering global attention to her case.

Saudi teenager Rahaf Alqunun has been granted asylum in Canada and has left Thailand, President Justin Trudeau confirmed.

But according to UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards, the organisation can not confirm at this stage whether it has in deed withdrawn its referral to Australia. She later told reporters Australia was assessing Alqunun's request for resettlement, but there was no specific timeframe.

Greg Hunt, the health minister, said that "very careful consideration" would be given to offering a humanitarian visa.

But just days after fleeing a powerful and allegedly abusive family in Saudi Arabia, al-Qunun has already been judged a legitimate refugee by the United Nations and been in contact with Australian officials in Bangkok about resettlement.

Canadian diplomats in the Thai capital were seized with her plight immediately, and though Alqunun originally said she wanted to reach Australia, it became clear in the past week that Canada represented her quickest path to freedom. Sophie McNeill, a reporter with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who has had exclusive access to Alqunun, said Friday in a Twitter posting that Alqunun "is safe and fine".

A UNHCR representative said "the process is still ongoing".

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Alqunun's appeal for refugee status also underscored the severe restrictions that women in Saudi Arabia face. The ultra-conservative kingdom has strict restrictions on women, including a requirement that they must have the permission of male family members to travel.

That makes it "100%" certain she will be killed by her family if she is returned to Saudi, she added.

"When she arrived, she open a new (Twitter) account and her followers grew to 45,000 in one day", he said in Arabic.

"It would be a pretty stunning reversal if they didn't take her", he said. The two men planned to return to Saudi Arabia early Saturday, he said. He is obligated to do everything in his power to advocate, both privately and publicly, and to use the vast leverage that football has, with the Bahrain government, his own government, he's a Bahrainian national, and also with the Thai government to release Hakeem.

The human rights group Amnesty International said yesterday it welcomed the decision by UNHCR to grant refugee status to the teenage Saudi runaway.

She has attracted interest worldwide, particularly in Australia.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also said there would be no "special treatment" in the case.

He was arrested while vacationing in Thailand in November due to an Interpol notice in which Bahrain sought his custody after he was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalizing a police station - a charge he denies.

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