Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun: Saudi teenager lands in Canada after country grants asylum

18-year-old arrives in Toronto a week after she barricaded herself in Bangkok airport hotel to avoid deportation

Emma Snaith
Saturday 12 January 2019 16:32 GMT
Saudi teen Rahaf al-Qunun posts video as she lands in Canada after being granted asylum

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family and barricaded herself in a Bangkok hotel room to avoid deportation has arrived in Canada after its prime minister Justin Trudeau confirmed she would be granted asylum.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun claimed to have been abused by her family and said she would fear for her life if deported back home.

Thailand’s immigration police chief said the teenager had left Bangkok on a flight to South Korea with a final destination of Toronto on Friday.

Ms al-Qunun tweeted a video of her plane landing at the airport on Saturday, accompanied with the caption: “I’m in Canada everyone”.

The teenager was greeted by Canada’s foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland who introduced the teenager as a “very brave new Canadian”.

“She had a very long and tiring journey so she would prefer not to take questions today,” Ms Freeland added.

The teenager fled her family while visiting Kuwait and flew to Bangkok, where she barricaded herself in an airport hotel to avoid deportation.

She attracted global attention by mounting a social media campaign for asylum after Thai immigration police seized her passport and refused her entry to the country on 5 January.

Following Ms al-Qunun’s campaign, Mr Trudeau announced that Ms al-Qunun would be granted asylum in Canada.

He said: “That is something that we are pleased to do because Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights and to stand up for women’s rights around the world and I can confirm that we have accepted the UN’s request.”

Several other countries, including Australia, had been in talks with the UN’s refugee agency to accept Ms al-Qunun, according to Thai immigration police chief Surachate Hakparn.

“She chose Canada. It’s her personal decision,” he said.

Mr Harpkan confirmed Ms al-Qunun’s flight from Bangkok to Toronto via South Korea, and while on the plane the 18-year-old tweeted an image of herself alongside the caption “third country – I did it”.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees welcomed Canada’s decision to grant asylum to Ms al-Qunun.

In a statement, the agency said: “The quick actions over the past week of the government of Thailand in providing temporary refuge and facilitating refugee status determination by UNHCR, and of the government of Canada in offering emergency resettlement to Ms al-Qunun and arranging her travel were key to the successful resolution of this case.”

Ms al-Qunun’s father arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday, but his daughter refused to meet with him.

Mr Hakparn said the father denied physically abusing Ms al-Qunun or trying to force her into an arranged marriage, which were among the reasons she gave for her escape from her family.

The teenager’s plight has emerged at a time when Saudi Arabia is facing intense global scrutiny over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and the ongoing war in Yemen.

Canada’s decision to offer Ms al-Qunun asylum could further damage the country’s relations with Saudi Arabia after a spat when the Canadian Foreign Ministry tweeted its support for women’s rights activists arrested in the kingdom.

In response, the Saudis sold Canadian investments and ordered their citizens studying in Canada to leave.

Additional reporting by AP

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in