Saudi teen who fled family is now Canadian with a new home

A Saudi teen who fled her family alleging abuse landed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on Saturday, a day after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country would grant her asylum based on a request from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Rahaf Mohammed al-qunun, 18, above (Photo credit: UNHCR), was welcomed at the airport by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland who said the “brave new Canadian” will be straightaway heading to her unspecified new home because she was tired after a long journey and wanted some rest.

Qunun posed for photographs with Freeland but did not take questions from media. Freeland said Qunun is happy to move to her new home.

The Saudi teen first landed at Suvarnabhoomi airport in Bangkok on Jan 5 on her way to Australia where she wanted to apply for asylum. A Saudi diplomat who accosted her in the transit area of the airport tricked her into handing over her passport and flight ticket by promising to arrange her visa. With the help of Thai immigration police, the diplomat put her up in a hotel in the transit area.

Once inside the hotel room, Qunun started posting messages and photos on Twitter to tell the world about her plight. Offices of the Human Rights Watch in Asia and Middle East intervened and international media started following up her story prominently.

On Monday, Saudi and Kuwaiti diplomats tried to put Qunun on a flight to Kuwait. She refused to board a flight or leave the room until airport authorities arranged a meeting for her with UNHCR officials.

UN refugee agency officials interviewed her and found her to be a genuine refugee. They contacted Australian authorities who said they were considering its request to grant her refugee status.

Qunun changed her plans and decided to seek Canada’s help as she felt Australia was taking too long to evaluate her refugee status.

Canadian authorities, who were following her story, knew she may be killed if deported to Kuwait since she had renounced her religion.

Trudeau said his country stands up for women’s rights and readily agreed to accept her as a refugee.

UNHCR hailed Canada’s gesture but expressed concern over the plight of Qununs across the world. Freeland said it is great thing to save at least one such woman.

COSTI, a Toronto-based non-profit, will help Qunun as she adjusts to a new life.