Rahaf Mohammed Al Qunun is currently in the care of United Nations
12 January, 2019, 11:13
An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family saying she feared for her life has been granted asylum in Canada, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday, as Thai officials confirmed the teen was en route to Toronto.
Reuters reported that the Thai immigration chief said Rahaf al-Qunun will leave from Thailand for Canada Friday evening on board a Korean Air flight.
"When the United Nations made a request of us that we grant Miss Alqunun's asylum, we accepted", said Trudeau after Australia too said it might offer sanctuary.
Qunun arrived at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport in transit from Kuwait last Saturday, when she was denied entry by Thai immigration officials. After mounting a campaign for assistance on Twitter, she was allowed to temporarily stay in Thailand under the care of the U.N.'s refugee agency, which ruled her claim for asylum valid.
Qunun's swift use of Twitter saw her amass more than tens of thousands of followers within a week, highlighting her plight at a time when Saudi Arabia's human rights record is under heavy scrutiny following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi previous year.
Taking in a Saudi refugee comes as diplomatic tensions between Canada and Saudi Arabia remain tense after several months of strained relations.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, at right, walks with an unidentified woman Friday in Bangkok.
Canadian authorities said they could not confirm that Qunun had been granted asylum in Canada.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also said there would be no "special treatment" in the case, according to CNN affiliate Nine News.
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"Canada has been unequivocal that we'll stand up for human rights and women's rights around the world", Trudeau said.
Marise Payne, the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs, said on Thursday she raised her concerns over his continued detention with the Thai authorities during her trip to the country.
Sophie McNeill, a reporter with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who has had exclusive access to al-Qunun, said Friday that al-Qunun shut down her Twitter account, but is "safe and fine". Several countries, including Australia, had said they could welcome Alqunun as a refugee.
"The safety of Ms Al-Qunun has always been the Australian Government's primary concern, and we have been working with the UNHCR and global partners to ensure her claim is assessed appropriately", he said.
"She chose Canada. It's her personal decision", General Surachate told The Associated Press. The two men planned to return to Saudi Arabia early Saturday, he said.
Payne is also expected to discuss the case of a Bahraini footballer with Australian asylum status who has been jailed in Thailand and faces extradition back to Bahrain.
Australian Foreign Minister Senator Marise Payne visited Thai officials in Bangkok Thursday to also raise concerns about Hakeem al-Araibi, a 25 year old former member of Bahrain's national soccer team, now detained in Thailand.
Thai police say Rahaf al-Qunun's father is still in Thailand and opposes her application to resettle.
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She said she was once locked in a room for six months because she had cut her hair in a way that her family did not approve of. Thai officials have announced they will not send a young Saudi woman who is seeking asylum in Australia back to Saudi Arabia .
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A group called the Secret Sisterhood has set up a GoFundMe page to raise cash for Qunun once she is resettled in another country . Surachate Hakparn, told reporters Tuesday that Saudi diplomats told him they were satisfied with how her case had been handled.
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