Saudi Teen Fleeing Her Family Has Been Granted Asylum as 'Brave New Canadian'
Saudi refugee Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun arrived safely in Toronto on Jan. 12, just one day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that Canada would grant the 18-year-old asylum.
The United Nations recognized al-Qunun as a refugee last week after she fled her abusive family while on vacation in Kuwait. The teen boarded a plane to Bangkok, which was heading to Australia, but was stopped by Thai officials, who took her passport and held her in a hotel room.
It was then that she drew international support. Her social media campaign, with the hashtag #SaveRahaf, went viral — causing Thai officials to allow her to stay temporarily, as UN officials called for her protection, the Independent reported.
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The UN High Commissioner for Refugees granted her refugee status on Jan. 9, prompting talks about asylum with countries like Canada and Australia.
Ultimately the teen chose Canada and the prime minister confirmed her request for asylum was granted.
I would like to thank you people for supporting me and saiving my life. Truly I have never dreamed of this love and support— Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد (@rahaf84427714) January 11, 2019
You are the spark that would motivate me to be a better person❤️❤️❤️🗽
"That is something that we are pleased to do because Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights and to stand up for women's rights around the world," Trudeau said last Friday.
Qunun was met at the airport by Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on Saturday.
"This is a very brave new Canadian," Freeland told reporters.
The Saudi teen says that her family became abusive after she renounced Islam.
Renouncing Islam can be punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, and under the country’s Islamic male guardianship system, male relatives must provide their consent for women to do things like attend school, work, and travel.
Canada and Saudi Arabia have been at odds over the last year, specifically when it comes to issues of gender equality. In August, a dispute between Saudi Arabia and Canada resulted in the expulsion of Canada’s ambassador in Saudi Arabia, the cancellation of flights to Toronto, and the transfer of foreign students based in Canada.
This dispute was caused by a tweet posted by Freeland that expressed concern over a government crackdown that led to the detention of human rights activists, including women’s rights champion Samar Badawi.
Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.— Chrystia Freeland (@cafreeland) August 2, 2018
The UNHCR commended Canada for its readiness to accept Qunun, but spokeswoman Lauren La Rose added that more needs to be done.
"Canada has been a great ally and leader in this area, but there needs to be more spaces so that women and girls or anyone that is vulnerable can find a safe third country to resettle in," La Rose said.