Saudi asylum-seeker arrives in Canada to official welcome

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland greets Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, after she landed in Toronto
Saudi asylum-seeker arrives in Canada to official welcome
Qunun captured the world's attention with a trail of Twitter posts.
By AFP
Sat 12 Jan 2019 09:00 PM

A young Saudi woman who caused a sensation by defying her family and seeking asylum abroad was welcomed with open arms in Toronto Saturday at the end of an exhausting international odyssey.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland greeted Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, after she landed in Toronto, wearing a blue ball cap and a gray hoodie emblazoned in red with the word "CANADA."

Smiling broadly, she posed for photographers with Freeland at her side, but made no statement.

"She had a pretty long journey and is exhausted and prefers not to take questions for the moment," Freeland said.

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 Saudi Arabia.

Thai authorities backed down on an attempt to deport her after she arrived in Bangkok on a flight from Kuwait a week ago, turning her over to the US's refugee agency instead.

Then on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the surprise announcement that Canada would take her in.

The move is sure to further strain Canada's relations with the kingdom. That relationship went sideways last August over Ottawa's rights criticism of Saudi Arabia, prompting Riyadh to expel the Canadian ambassador and sever all trade and investment ties in protest.

"Ms. al-Qunun's plight has captured the world's attention over the past few days, providing a glimpse into the precarious situation of millions of refugees worldwide," said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"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."

Qunun alleged that she was abused by her family -- who deny the allegations.

Qunun first said she was aiming for Australia, where officials had suggested they would give serious consideration to her claim for asylum, which was endorsed as legitimate by the UNHCR on Wednesday.

But late Friday Thailand's immigration police chief Surachate Hakparn said a smiling and cheerful Rahaf was bound for Toronto and had left on a flight.

Qunun's use of Twitter saw her amass tens of thousands of followers within a week.

Her deployment of social media allowed her to avoid the fate of countless other refugees who are quietly sent back home or left to languish in Bangkok detention centers.

She refused to see her father, who traveled to Thailand and expressed opposition to her resettlement.

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