Americas, Middle East

Saudi teen fleeing family abuse arrives in Canada

Canadian foreign minister welcomes al-Qunun to her 'new home'

12.01.2019
Saudi teen fleeing family abuse arrives in Canada

By Barry Ellsworth

TRENTON, Canada

A Saudi teen who fled alleged abuse by her family and barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room arrived in Toronto Saturday.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun was wearing a Canada hoodie as she met a gaggle of press at Pearson International Airport. The smiling 18-year-old was greeted by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Her arrival comes after a fascinated international audience followed her flight to freedom that began a week ago.

Al-Qunun ran away while on vacation in Kuwait and boarded a plane to Thailand.

But last Saturday she was stopped at Bangkok airport by Thai immigration as she tried to connect with a flight to Australia.

She managed to barricade herself in a hotel room at the airport and then embarked on a social media quest via Twitter, telling of her situation and her wish to be given asylum in another country.

The campaign generated enough publicity that Thai officials allowed her to remain in that country under the protection of the UN. She was granted refugee status by the UN, Wednesday.

The UN asked Canada to grant al-Qunun asylum.

"The [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] has made a request of Canada that we accept Ms. al-Qunun as a refugee and we have accepted the UN’s request that we grant her asylum," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters, Friday.

"This is part of a long tradition of Canada engaging constructively and positively in the world and working with our partners, allies and with the United Nations. And when the United Nations made a request of us that we grant Ms. al-Qunun asylum, we accepted."

The teen waved to reporters as she walked through the Toronto airport about 10:30 a.m. Saturday, but did not speak to the media.

Freeland spoke briefly to reporters and said al-Qunun was on her way to her “new home” but would not speak to the media because she was exhausted.

But Freeland called her a “very brave new Canadian.”

"She’s very, very happy to be in her new home although she did comment to me about the cold," Freeland said. "I told her it does get warmer."

It was -4C in Toronto.

The teen said her family physically abused her and tried to force her into an arranged marriage, claims that al-Qunun’s father has denied.

The acceptance of the teen could further damage Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Canada.

In August, the Saudis sold off investments in Canada and told students studying there to leave after Canadian officials called for the immediate release of women’s right activists jailed in the Kingdom.

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