Saudi Woman Who Fled Family Granted Asylum in Canada

BANGKOK — Canada granted asylum on Friday to an 18-year-old Saudi runaway who feared death by her family if she were deported home by Thailand, as well as Thai officials said she had left “smiling as well as healthy” for a fresh life.

The woman, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, boarded a plane to Seoul late Friday evening as well as by there was scheduled to fly to Toronto, said the Thai immigration chief, Surachate Hakparn, a police general.

He said Canada had given asylum to Ms. Alqunun, which was confirmed a few hours later by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada.

Mr. Trudeau told reporters in Regina, Saskatchewan, , in which the United Nations refugee agency had asked the Canadian government to grant Ms. Alqunun asylum, “as well as we have accepted the U.N.’s request.”

The events signaled a remarkable reversal in Ms. Alqunun’s fortunes by less than a week ago when she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to avoid being sent back.

“She’s lively, she’s smiling as well as healthy,” General Surachate told reporters at a late-night airport news conference. “She said in which as soon as she arrives in Canada, one of the first things she wants to do will be learn the language. She has determination.”

She escaped by her family in Kuwait last Saturday as well as flew to Thailand. After being denied entry into the country, she rallied support on Twitter to avoid being deported, saying she feared her relatives might kill her if she were returned to them.

The 48-hour standoff at Suvarnabhumi Airport drew global attention through a social media campaign mounted by Ms. Alqunun by the hotel room, as well as by friends as well as supporters.

Ms. Alqunun’s original destination had been Australia, where she hoped to join some other women who have fled Saudi Arabia, a patriarchal society where male family members can control even the smallest details of a woman’s life.

Both Canada as well as Australia interviewed Ms. Alqunun as part of the refugee placement process, she said. The final decision on where to send her was up to the United Nations refugee agency, which granted her refugee status earlier inside week.

however General Surachate said she preferred Canada over Australia for personal reasons.

“She wishes to go to Canada,” he said, “so we respect her wishes.”

Both Thailand as well as Canada were commended for their handling of the case by Filippo Grandi, the top refugee official at the United Nations.

“Refugee protection today will be often under threat as well as cannot always be assured, however in This particular instance international refugee law as well as overriding values of humanity have prevailed,” he said in a statement.

Canada’s decision will be likely to aggravate already tense relations with Saudi Arabia. In August the kingdom expelled the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh, recalled the Saudi ambassador to Ottawa as well as froze all fresh trade as well as investment deals with Canada after Canada’s Foreign Ministry posted two Twitter messages calling on Saudi Arabia to Discharge imprisoned rights activists, including two who have family in Canada.

The kingdom also retaliated against Canada having a series of some other measures in which included suspending flights by Saudia, the national carrier, to Canadian airports, as well as ordering the transfer of thousands of Saudi students studying in Canada elsewhere.

Ms. Alqunun’s case received unusually quick consideration by the Thai authorities, the United Nations refugee agency, also known as UNHCR, as well as Canadian as well as Australian officials. Many asylum seekers wait years for placement in a country once they are accepted as refugees by the United Nations agency.

After Thai officials agreed on Monday to let Ms. Alqunun leave the airport, they were eager to have her case settled quickly to ensure she could depart for whatever country agreed to accept her.

Complicating matters, her father as well as brother arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to travel without a male guardian.

The father met with immigration as well as refugee agency officials to make the case in which Ms. Alqunun should be returned to him. He argued in which she needed medical treatment as well as should be under his family’s care. Ms. Alqunun refused to see them.

She said earlier in an interview in which her brother had often beaten her, as well as in which her family once locked her in a room for six months because she cut her hair in a way they didn’t like.

The immigration chief, General Surachate, met with the father, whom he declined to name however identified as a provincial governor in Saudi Arabia. He told reporters in which Ms. Alqunun’s father had denied abusing her.

“Her father said in which his daughter might have felt neglected because he has 10 children,” the immigration chief said. “Of course, the idea’s normal in which parents worry about their child. however since the daughter asked to be under the care of UNHCR, we have to respect her request.”

Ms. Alqunun’s father as well as brother asked to see her before her departure however she refused to meet with them, the general said. They also were scheduled to leave Friday evening.