Saudi teenager who fled ‘abusive’ family arrives in Canada

Foreign minister Chrystia Freeland described Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun as a “very brave new Canadian” as they met at a Toronto airport.

The 18-year-old posted a photo on Twitter of her flight to Canada, in which she appears to be watching a film while holding a glass of red wine.

The teenager used the social media site to help prevent her deportation from Thailand when she was stopped en route to Australia last weekend.

Ms Alqunun was fleeing Saudi Arabia and feared her relatives would kill her if she was returned to the kingdom.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a surprise announcement on Friday that the North American country would take her in.

Mr Trudeau said: “Canada has been unequivocal that we’ll stand up for human rights and women’s rights around the world.

“When the United Nations made a request of us that we grant Alqunun’s asylum, we accepted.”

Officials had heavily hinted that the teenager was bound for Australia where she had originally intended to seek asylum.

Canada’s move is sure to further strain its relations with Saudi Arabia.

The North American country criticised the rights record of the Arab kingdom in August, prompting Riyadh to expel the Canadian ambassador and sever all trade and investment ties in protest.

Canada also sparked fury in Riyadh by demanding the “immediate release” of jailed rights campaigners, including Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi, whose family lives in Quebec.

Ms Alqunun’s attempt to flee Saudi Arabia was embraced by rights groups as a beacon of defiance against repression.

Thai authorities initially threatened to deport her when she arrived in Bangkok after she fled her family during a trip to Kuwait.

Ms Alqunun used furniture to barricade herself in an airport hotel room to avoid being sent back to live with her relatives.

She used her smartphone and Twitter account to force a U-turn from Thai immigration police as her story gained attention around the world.

Ms Alqunun was eventually taken into the care of the UN’s refugee agency.

She had earlier told Human Rights Watch that she suffered beatings and death threats from male relatives in Saudi Arabia.

Her family denies the allegations.

The teenager is also said to have renounced Islam, which risks prosecution in the Arab kingdom.

Thailand’s immigration police chief, Surachate Hakparn, said on Friday that a smiling and cheerful Ms Alqunun was bound for Toronto and had left on a flight after 11pm (4pm GMT).

He said: “She chose Canada… Canada said it will accept her.

“She is safe now and has good physical and mental health. She is happy.”

2019-01-13T11:08:09+00:00By |

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