Canada grants asylum to fleeing young Saudi girl Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, stranded in Thailand after fleeing Saudi Arabia, was granted asylum in Canada, and was en route to Toronto on Friday night.

Canada has decided to grant asylum to the 18-year-old Saudi girl, who is on the run from her family in Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose country is at odds with Riyadh over human rights, announced that Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun was already on her way to Toronto on Friday. “We have granted her asylum, and we are delighted to do so because Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights and women around the world” the prime minister added.

Escaping abuse

This announcement brings an end to the drama initiated by the 18-year-old had herself when she publicised her case on Twitter. On a trip to Kuwait with her family, Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun Rahaf had decided to flee last weekend at Bangkok International Airport, where she had been arrested. Placed under the protection of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Thailand, Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun said she wanted to flee the psychological and physical abuse of his family and seek asylum in several countries. She also told Human Rights Watch that she wanted to renounce Islam, which puts her “in serious danger” the NGO stated.

An international campaign

Thailand initially intended to send her back to her country at the request of the Saudi authorities. But the young woman barricaded herself in a hotel room at the airport, posting on Twitter a multitude of desperate messages and videos, and immediately achieving international notoriety. Following a campaign of support from all corners of the globe, the Thai authorities, who normally execute push-backs at border control (between 50 and 100 per year), had given up sending her back against her will and allowed her to leave the airport with representatives of UNHCR on Monday. Thai authorities stated that the father and a brother of the young woman came to Bangkok, but she “refused to see them”.

Growing tensions between Ottawa and Riyadh

The formal asylum request has been transmitted by the UN to Canada, we respect our commitments to the UN. The country of origin, Saudi Arabia, does not intervene in the process“, indicated a Canadian government official who spoke under the condition of anonymity.

Canada’s decision is likely to fuel tensions between Riyadh and Ottawa. Riyadh expelled the Canadian ambassador in August, recalled its ambassador and froze any new trade or investment with Canada. Saudi Arabia’s action followed the denunciation by Ottawa of the arrest of Saudi human rights activists, including Samar Badawi. Saudi Arabia is one of the most restrictive countries in the world for women’s rights. Notably, women are subject to the guardianship of men who exercise arbitrary authority over them.