Published: Sun, January 13, 2019
World News | By Sandy Lane

Saudi teen runaway leaves for Canada

Saudi teen runaway leaves for Canada

Exhausted 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.

The UN granted Qunun refugee status earlier this week, shortly after Thailand said it would not deport her amid global pressure from human rights groups and other supporters.

Earlier Friday, Thailand's immigration police chief said 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun had left on a flight headed for Canada.

Teenage Saudi asylum-seeker Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun landed in Canada on Saturday to an official welcome after fleeing her home country last week.

Saudi Runaway Woman

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun shakes hands with Immigration Bureau chief Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn.

"This is Rahaf al-Qunun, a very courageous new Canadian", Freeland told reporters, holding onto al-Qunun, who was wearing a "Canada" sweatshirt.

Qunun captured the world's attention with a trail of Twitter posts that ignited a #SaveRahaf movement as she fled what she said was an abusive family in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia.

Qunun was stopped on January 5 at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport by immigration police, who denied her entry and seized her passport.

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Alqunun's case recalls another woman who tried to escape Saudi Arabia, as NPR's Sasha Ingber has reported. Australia had said it was considering whether to offer her asylum, but a UNHCR spokesman hinted in an email to NPR that Ottawa moved more quickly. ABC News reporter Sophie McNeill, who had been in contact with Alqunun, said that she was fine but apparently suspended her account after receiving death threats.

Before boarding her flight to Toronto, the young woman had tweeted, "I would like to thank you people for supporting me and saving my life".

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 rights activists who had been arrested.

In the interview Ms al-Qunun responded to claims she had manipulated social media to be granted asylum.

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Qunun took a Korean Air flight from Bangkok to Seoul on Friday and then a connecting flight to Toronto. "Truly I have never dreamed of this love and support".

Australia had dropped strong hints it would accept her after the United Nations urged the country to do so and it remains unclear why the resettlement location changed.

"Canada has been unequivocal that we'll stand up for human rights and women's rights around the world", Trudeau said. She has refused to see her father who travelled to Thailand and expressed opposition to her resettlement.

"She chose Canada. It's her personal decision", he said.

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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.

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