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Saudi teen runaway leaves for Canada

OTTAWA: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday that Canada was taking in an 18-year-old Saudi asylum seeker who fled her family and harnessed the power of Twitter to stave off deportation from Thailand.

immigrationpolitics
By AFP

Saturday 12 January 2019, 10:35AM


Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun shakes hands with Immigration Bureau chief Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn. The 18-year-old Saudi left for Canada just before midnight on Friday (Jan 11).

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun shakes hands with Immigration Bureau chief Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn. The 18-year-old Saudi left for Canada just before midnight on Friday (Jan 11).

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun was already en route to Toronto late Friday night (Thailand time) when the prime minister made the surprise announcement, after officials had previously given heavy hints she was bound for Australia.

“Canada has been unequivocal that we’ll stand up for human rights and women’s rights around the world,” Trudeau said. “When the United Nations made a request of us that we grant al-Qunun’s asylum, we accepted.”

The move may further strain Canadian relations with the kingdom that 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.

Canada had already 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.

Qunun’s attempt to flee the ultra-conservative kingdom was embraced by rights groups as a beacon of defiance against repression.

She deleted her entire contentious Twitter account hours before departure for Canada. Others reconstituted it and back-filled it with old and new messages, but the account no longer has her name or photo.

Thai Immigration Bureau authorities initially threatened to deport her after she arrived in Bangkok from Kuwait last weekend.

But armed with a smartphone and hastily opened Twitter account, she forced a U-turn from Thai immigration police who handed her into the care of the UN's refugee agency as the #SaveRahaf hashtag bounced across the world.

Qunun alleged that she was abused by her family – who deny the allegations – and rights groups also said she had renounced Islam, risking prosecution in Saudi Arabia.

Rahaf 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 said a smiling and cheerful Rahaf was bound for Toronto and had left on a flight after 11pm, Thailand time.

“She chose Canada... Canada said it will accept her,” immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters at Suvarnabhumi.

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

Rahaf left from the same airport where her quest for asylum began less than a week ago in a swift-moving process that defied most norms.

On Friday afternoon Rahaf posted a final cryptic tweet on her profile saying “I have some good news and some bad news” – shortly after her account was deactivated in response to death threats she had faced, her friends said.

“Rahaf received death threats and for this reason she closed her Twitter account, please save Rahaf life,” tweeted supporter @nourahfa313, who has flanked Rahaf's social media campaign with her own updates on Twitter.

Rahaf’s swift use of Twitter saw her amass more than 100,000 followers within a week, highlighting her plight at a time when Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is under heavy scrutiny following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year.

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

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

Gen Surachate said her father and brother were due to return home on a flight in the early hours of Saturday.

Although her asylum case moved fast the final manoeuvres that led to her flight to Canada remain a mystery.

Australia had dropped strong hints it would accept her after the UN urged the country to do so and it remains unclear why the resettlement location changed.

On Thursday its foreign minister said Canberra was still assessing the request.

Earlier, Gen Surachate told reporters Friday that “two or three” countries were ready to offer her asylum.

 

 

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christysweet | 15 January 2019 - 16:44:24

A happy ending, let us hope she isn't a victim of some more patriarchal BS in way of "honor". 

Pascale | 15 January 2019 - 15:37:49

Hahaha,chewing letters? If one can't even correctly repeat his own writings,what else can i say. And R's definition of "counless",which i guess should say countless is correct and it confirms only that it doesn't give exact numbers. Therefore it is K who needs some education.

Kurt | 15 January 2019 - 09:57:59

...  I not wrote:.."how many countless" !..    I wrote: ..How many 'countles'..    Understand the difference? 
Chewing letters is ok, but chew correct. Don't derail in reacting.  I am sure readers know what I, a bit cynical spoken,  meant.

Jor12 | 15 January 2019 - 08:55:22

It's is plain that the intellectual thus the comprehension level of most comentators on here is sadly lacking together with misguided assumptions, masquerading as commentary

Rorri_2 | 15 January 2019 - 07:33:36

Counless, definition..  very many, or too many to be counted:... did you notice the "very many?" I hope this helps you understand Kurt's comment. Just a little help in your education.

Pascale | 14 January 2019 - 17:20:29

"How many "countless"..."Don't you know the meaning of "countless"?

Rorri_2 | 14 January 2019 - 15:49:04

"o reiterate if you read the articles, they answer all your comments. There is no contradiction. If not, clearly your comprehension is lacking," does anyone know what this joker is on about? He must be reading different stories, or, as usual, only picks the parts he wants to.

Kurt | 14 January 2019 - 10:45:04

How many 'countless' refugees are quietly send back 'home', or languish now in thai detention centres?

Jor12 | 14 January 2019 - 09:41:20

To reiterate if you read the articles, they answer all your comments. There is no contradiction.  If not, clearly your comprehension is lacking.

Kurt | 14 January 2019 - 08:35:18

A Saudi woman, was locked up 6 months in her room by family, escaped her prisoned life, just to got unlawful halted while in TRANSIT at a thai airport by mr 'Big Joke', en Saudi Officials. Compare that with the warm welcome of the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs! A world of difference projected on thai deception.

Kurt | 13 January 2019 - 18:26:13

Now Thailand still uncomfortable with that Bahrain football player, who has a official status in Australia, and is there on a salary list of a foot ball club. He came to Thailand after Thailand gave him the guarantee it was ok to go for a Thailand holiday. Arrested and still locked up in BKK. Never trust the word of thai authorities. So, when will this man be released?

Kurt | 13 January 2019 - 18:14:46

From beginning to end the press was given all the time contradictory info by Authorities. It was all the time 'adjusted'. Guess because it became a international affair and thai authorities had to tune down and  downplayed their role from 'we send her back her family' to 'we wish her all the best in Canada'. Great job of UNHCR!

Rorri_2 | 13 January 2019 - 15:41:30

"Read the articles ...they have all the answers for you," oh dear, again, completely missed what was being asked... deary deary me, I suggest an understanding of  "rhetorical question." All very good questions to be asked... and no-one expects an answer, why, because Big Joke, really is a big joke, along with his underlings.

Jor12 | 13 January 2019 - 09:26:26

Read the articles ...they have all the answers for you.

Kurt | 12 January 2019 - 12:12:47

What was true or not true?
Did Thailand allow saudi officials into airport transit lounge to take away her passport + ticket, or not? Did 'Big Joke' order his staff to ( half-half) arrest her, or not. Did Thailand in first thinking to deport her to Saudi, or not? What kind of person is in charge of Thailand immigration matters in conjunction with international laws, or not? 

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