Rahaf al-Qunun: Saudi teen who fled her family arrives in Canada

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family this week saying she feared for her life arrived in Toronto on Saturday after Canada granted her asylum, according to a Reuters witness.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun grabbed international attention this week after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to her family, which denies any abuse. Ms Qunun refused to meet her father and brother, who arrived in Bangkok to try take her back to Saudi Arabia.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland introduced the teenager as “a very brave new Canadian” but said that Ms al-Qunun was tired from her ordeal and long journey and would not be making any public statement on Saturday.

“She is a very brave young woman who has been through a lot… and she is now going to go to her new home,” the minister added.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier told reporters that his country had granted a request from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to grant asylum.

“Canada has been unequivocal that we will always stand up for human rights and women’s rights around the world,” he said.

Her case has drawn global attention to Saudi Arabia’s strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male “guardian” to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

Ms Qunun took a Korean Air flight from Bangkok to Seoul on Friday and then a connecting flight to Toronto.

Ms Qunun arrived in Bangkok a week ago and was initially denied entry. But she soon started posting messages on Twitter from the transit area of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport saying she had “escaped Kuwait” and her life would be in danger if forced to return to Saudi Arabia.

Within hours, a campaign sprang up dubbed #SaveRahaf, spread on Twitter by a loose network of activists.

Following a 48-hour stand-off at Bangkok airport, some of it barricaded in a transit lounge hotel room, she was allowed to enter the country and has been processed as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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