'I Did It': Saudi Teen Fleeing Alleged Family Abuse Arrives In Canada
A Saudi teenager fleeing alleged family abuse arrived in Canada Saturday as an asylum refugee after a harrowing journey in which she was almost forcibly deported back home while changing planes in Thailand. At one point, 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun had barricaded herself in an airport hotel in Bangkok to avoid being taken by Thai authorities. She stirred worldwide sympathy by tweeting about her plight during the week-long ordeal, prompting the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to declare that she was fleeing alleged family abuse and was in a dangerous situation. The teenage said she feared her family would kill her because she renounced Islam. Under Saudi's strict system of male guardianship, women must get permission from their father, husband, brother or even a son in order to travel or marry. Thailand's immigration police chief Surachate Hakparn told CNN that Alqunun had continued to refuse to meet with her father and brother who had flown to Thailand to take her back. Alqunun's Twitter account, which had been her lifeline to the outside world, was temporarily deactivated Friday but sprang back to life Saturday, sporting pictures of what appeared to be an airplane seat, passport and boarding pass. "3rd country," she wrote, referring to resettlement in Canada. "I did it." The declaration by the UNHCR prompted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to offer her asylum in Canada. “Canada has been unequivocal,” Trudeau said. “We will always stand up for human rights and women’s rights around the world.” Alqunun smiled broadly as she exited an arrival door at Toronto’s airport Saturday sporting a Canada hoodie. With Alqunun by her side, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland declared: “This a very brave new Canadian.” Freeland said Algunun had made a long journey and preferred to get settled before talking to the media. She joked that the teen did comment about the cold weather but was assured it gets warmer. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, who had put Alqunun's on a fast-track, emergency basis, said her plight had underscored the precarious situation faced by millions of refugees worldwide. "Refugee protection today is often under threat and cannot always be assured, but in this instance international refugee law and overriding values of humanity have prevailed," he said. Because Saudi women cannot leave the country without a guardian's permission, some have been forced to flee while on a family vacation in another country. Several have slipped away in Turkey, a popular Saudi tourist destination, then fled to neighboring Georgia, which does not require Saudis to have a visa, the New York Times reports. Many who have fled in the past or seek to in the future exchange information with other Saudi women in private online chat groups, the Times notes. Canada's decision to offer asylum to Alqunun will likely add to the strains with Saudi Arabia that erupted last summer after Canadian officials accused Saudi Arabia of human rights violations and demanded the release of imprisoned activists. The Saudi government responded by freezing all Saudi air flights to Toronto, suspending bilateral trade deals and cancelling scholarships for thousands of Saudi students in Canada.