Trudeau confirms Saudi asylum seeker coming to Canada

Nellie Chapman
January 14, 2019

Australia is conducting health, security and other background checks on Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun ahead of her possible resettlement in the country as a refugee, a spokesperson for the Australian Foreign Minister's Office confirmed to CNN.

Thailand initially said it would deport her at the request of Saudi embassy officials, barring her from travelling on to Australia where Ms Qunun said she had meant to claim asylum.

Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada has officially granted al-Qunun asylum.

The UNHCR eventually granted her refugee status on Wednesday and several countries, including Canada and Australia, had been in talks with the United Nations refugee agency to accept her.

Alqunun was stopped January 5 at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport by immigration police who denied her entry and seized her passport.

But armed with a smartphone and a hastily opened Twitter account, she forced a U-turn from Thai immigration police who handed her into the care of the UN's refugee agency as the #SaveRahaf hashtag case bounced across the world.

Qunun's case has drawn global attention to the strict rules many Saudi women face and comes at a time when the Gulf country is under increased scrutiny following the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Several women fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum overseas in recent years and returned home. "I think there are many cases like this that go unreported".

Qunun had flown to Thailand from Kuwait to escape her family who she feared would kill her because she renounced Islam. In a video clip of the meeting released by Thai immigration police, Alsheaiby is heard telling Thai officials: "From the moment she arrived, she opened a new account and her followers reached nearly 45,000 in a day".

"She still refuses to meet with her father and brother, and they are going to be travelling back tonight as well".

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

"We're pleased the UNHCR process concluded so quickly and that Ms Mohammed Al-Qunun has been offered asylum", Shayne Neumann, Labor's immigration and border protection spokesman, said.

Alqunun's successful gambit comes amid renewed attention on Saudi Arabia's treatment of women.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, cited Alqunun's "courage and perseverance".

Payne was also asked by reporters about the case of Hakeem al-Araibi, a 25-year-old former member of Bahrain's national soccer team, who was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017 after fleeing his homeland, where he said he was persecuted and tortured.

Before that, Canada and Saudi Arabia were engaged in a diplomatic spat over a federal government tweet criticizing a Saudi civil rights crackdown, prompting the kingdom to expel Canada's ambassador and ordering their citizens studying in Canada to leave.

The embassy and Thai officials earlier said that Alqunun was stopped by Thai authorities because she did not have a return ticket, a hotel reservation or itinerary to show she was a tourist, which appeared to have raised a red flag about the reasons for her trip.

But late Friday Thailand's immigration police chief said she was bound for Canada. In downtown Sydney on Thursday, four women dressed in jeans and calling themselves the Secret Sisterhood held a topless protest outside the building housing the Saudi Consulate, calling on Australia to grant Alqunun residency.

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