Canada grants asylum to Saudi girl who fled abuse, oppression

This handout picture taken and released by the Thai Immigration Bureau on January 7, 2019 shows 18-year-old Saudi girl Rahaf Mohammed al-Qanun (2nd-L) shaking hands with a Thai immigration officer at Suvarnabhumi international airport in Bangkok. (Photo by AFP)
This handout picture taken and released by the Thai Immigration Bureau on January 7, 2019 shows 18-year-old Saudi girl Rahaf Mohammed al-Qanun (2nd-L) shaking hands with a Thai immigration officer at Suvarnabhumi international airport in Bangkok. (Photo by AFP)

The Canadian government has granted asylum to an 18-year-old Saudi girl who feared death from her family if she were deported to the Arab country from Thailand.

The girl had barricaded herself in a Bangkok hotel room after escaping what she called abuse and oppression by family members.

Alqunun has boarded a plane to Seoul in Bangkok and was expected to fly to Canada from there, Thai immigration police told The Associated Press on Friday.

“The UNHCR has made a request of Canada that we accept Ms. Alqunun as a refugee, and we have accepted the UN’s request that we grant her asylum,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Friday, referring to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

When she arrived in Bangkok, Thai agents stopped Alqunun at the airport and seized her passport. She hid in a transit lounge hotel room and began tweeting in Arabic about her plight.

“I’m the girl who ran away to Thailand. I’m now in real danger because the Saudi embassy is trying to force me to return,” she wrote in her first tweet.

Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد@rahaf84427714

انا الفتاة الهاربة من الكويت إلى تايلند، حياتي على المحك وأنا الان في خطر حقيقي اذا تم إرجاعي بالقوة إلى السعودية.

Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد@rahaf84427714

اسمي رهف محمد، و سأقوم بنشر اسمي الكامل على الملاء إذا لم تتوقف عائلتي والسفاراة السعودية، ورجل السفارة الكويتية عن مطاردتي.

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She said she suffered physical abuse at the hands of family members and alleged they had tried to marry her off against her will. Alqunun’s family so far hasn’t commented publicly on the accusations.

Her tweets attracted the attention of the UN, the Australian government and reporters. The UNHCR granted her refugee status, and Australia’s Department of Home Affairs told NPR that Australia would “consider this referral [for refugee resettlement] in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals.”

Australia had said it was considering whether to offer her asylum, but a UNHCR spokesman hinted in an email to NPR that Ottawa moved more quickly.

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