Monday, 25 March, 2019

Saudi asylum seeker fleeing abuse arrives in Canada

Immigration Bureau Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun foreground walks by Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn right before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Immigration police via AP FILE
Kenny Thornton | 14 January, 2019, 21:58

The Thai authorities' earlier willingness to return al-Qunun to Kuwait or Saudi Arabia could help her meet that standard. Australia had said it was considering whether to offer her asylum, but a UNHCR spokesman hinted in an email to NPR that Ottawa moved more quickly. "She'll leave tonight at 11:15 p.m.", which is 11:15 a.m. ET.

Alqunun temporarily disabled her Twitter account due to death threats, according to a friend.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has backed up Rahaf's story. "That was actually one of the reasons why the original idea that she might be going to Australia was switched to go to Canada, because Canada was prepared to act much quicker and really make this happen".

"She is a very fearless young woman who has been through a lot. and she is now going to go to her new home", the minister added.

"My family is strict and locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair". The UNHCR granted her refugee status, and Australia's Department of Home Affairs told NPR that Australia would "consider this referral [for refugee resettlement] in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals".

"She said that as soon as she arrives in Canada, the first thing she will do is to learn the language".

Ms.al-Qunun's case has highlighted the cause of women's rights in Saudi Arabia.

Alqunun said her father physically abused her and tried to force her into an arranged marriage. He said Alqunun's father wanted his daughter back but respected her decision.

The teenager fears her family will kill her if she returns home after she renounced Islam and fled while on holiday in Bahrain. "And I would have preferred it better if her phone was taken instead of her passport".

"Canada will always stand up for human rights, very much including women's rights".

It was enough to pressure the Thai authorities to allow her access to the UNHCR and not deport her to Kuwait. Several female Saudis fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum overseas in recent years and returned home.

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Alqunun's case recalls another woman who tried to escape Saudi Arabia, as NPR's Sasha Ingber has reported. She hasn't been publicly heard from since.

"Nobody wants to see a young girl in distress and she has obviously now found a safe haven in Thailand", Dutton told reporters in Brisbane. "This looks like Thai & #SaudiArabia playing games to me", Robertson said in a tweet.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, right, walks with an unidentified companion today in Bangkok, Thailand.

"Once again we are seeing the abusive influence of Saudi authorities overseas as they seek to forcibly return Saudi women fleeing mistreatment and violence by their families", said Page.

The Saudi embassy in Bangkok said it "did not demand her deportation" and that the case is "a family affair".

Two days - and some 80,000 followers - later, she was cheered out of the airport by a legion of online followers.

She also thanked the supporters she said had saved her life. It didn't address Rahaf's stated claims of trying to travel to Australia.

The UNHCR office in Thailand also declined to comment.

Payne told reporters that Australia's review of Alqunun's case is already underway.

As was the case with the ministry statement, al-Shuaibi's remarks didn't address her explanation of lacking a return ticket or tourist program because she meant to travel on to Australia. "They will do anything to get out of those situations to safety so it may be a tool that some will use".

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