Canada grants asylum to Saudi teen who fled alleged family abuse
An 18-year-old Saudi woman who said she is fleeing abuse from her family has been granted asylum in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Friday.
Thailand’s immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said Rahaf al-Qunun has left Thailand for Canada on board a Korean Air flight.
“Canada has granted her asylum,” the Thai official told Reuters.
The UNHCR applauded Canada’s decision in a statement on Friday afternoon. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the woman’s case, which attracted widespread attention, provided “a glimpse into the precarious situation of millions of refugees worldwide.”
“Refugee protection today is often under threat and cannot always be assured, but in this instance international refugee law and overriding values of humanity have prevailed,” he said.
The Global Affairs Canada said it had no comment on Qunun’s case.
Qunun arrived in Thailand on Saturday and was initially denied entry. She soon started posting messages on Twitter after barricading herself in a room in Bangkok’s airport hotel saying she had “escaped Kuwait” and her life would be in danger if forced to return to Saudi Arabia.
WATCH: UNHCR official visits Thai hotel where Saudi teen barricaded herself
After grabbing worldwide attention with her social media posts, authorities eventually allowed her to enter the country. On Wednesday the United Nations ruled that she is, in fact, a legitimate refugee and recommended that she be resettled in Australia.
However, according to reports, the UN withdrew its referral to Australia to take her as a refugee.
She is now en route to Canada, according to the Thai immigration chief.
Qunun had previously expressed wanting to come to Canada on her Twitter account, which was deleted on Friday after getting death threats, Reuters reported.
The 18-year-old has said she was fleeing from her family out of fear they would kill her for renouncing Islam, something that is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.
She also said her family abused her physically and psychologically, at one point locking her in her room for six months after she cut her hair and rebelled against wearing the hijab.
According to Human Rights Watch, Canada helped persuade the Thai government to let Qunun seek asylum.
Qunun’s case has highlighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
Several female Saudis fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home.
Canada taking Qunun could further upset Saudi-Canada relations.
The country has previously condemned Saudi Arabia for it’s record on Human Rights. In August 2018, Foriegn Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted a statement saying she was “very alarmed” to hear about the imprisonment of a women’s rights activist in the country.
That led to a diplomatic spat that saw Canadian diplomats expelled from the country and Saudi students called back.
WATCH: Saudi teen fleeing family granted asylum in Canada
Critics have drawn attention to the fact that Canada still has a weapons contract with Saudi Arabia worth $15 billion, even as the government slams Saudi for human rights violations.
“Canada has been very very clear on issues around Saudi Arabia, that we have real concerns around human rights,” Trudeau said at at town hall in Regina Thursday night in response to the issue.
He added that, “Canada, under the previous government signed this contract to sell these light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia,” and hinted that the government is looking for a way out of the deal.
Saudi Arabia has also come under fire in recent months after being accused of having knowledge of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Canada has sanctioned 17 Saudi nationals in relation to his murder.
— With files from Reuters and the Canadian Press
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