Canada takes in Saudi teen asylum seeker




  • In World/Latin America
  • 2019-01-11 20:55:33Z
  • By Michel Comte with Sippachai Kunnuwong in Thailand

Ottawa (AFP) - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday that Canada was taking in an 18-year-old Saudi asylum seeker who fled her family and harnessed the power of Twitter to stave off deportation from Thailand.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun was already en route to Toronto late Friday when the prime minister made the surprise announcement, after officials had previously given heavy hints she was bound for Australia.

"Canada has been unequivocal that we'll stand up for human rights and women's rights around the world," Trudeau said. "When the United Nations made a request of us that we grant al-Qunun's asylum, we accepted."

The move is sure to further strain Canadian relations with the kingdom that went sideways last August over Ottawa's rights criticism of Saudi Arabia, prompting Riyadh to expel the Canadian ambassador and sever all trade and investment ties in protest.

Canada also sparked fury in Riyadh by demanding the "immediate release" of jailed rights campaigners, including Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi, whose family lives in Quebec.

Qunun's attempt to flee the ultra-conservative kingdom was embraced by rights groups as a beacon of defiance against repression.

Thai authorities initially threatened to deport her after she arrived in Bangkok from Kuwait last weekend.

But armed with a smartphone and 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 bounced across the world.

- 'Precarious situation' -

"Ms. al-Qunun's plight has captured the world's attention over the past few days, providing a glimpse into the precarious situation of millions of refugees worldwide," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said.

"Refugee protection today is often under threat and cannot always be assured, but in this instance international refugee law and overriding values of humanity have prevailed."

Raif Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar also praised Canada, calling Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on Twitter "the real hero" behind efforts to prevent Qunun's repatriation to Saudi Arabia.

Qunun alleged that she was abused by her family -- who deny the allegations -- and rights groups also said she had renounced Islam, risking prosecution in Saudi Arabia.

Rahaf first said she was aiming for Australia where officials had suggested they would give serious consideration to her claim for asylum, which was endorsed as legitimate by the UNHCR on Wednesday.

But late Friday Thailand's immigration police chief said a smiling and cheerful Rahaf was bound for Toronto and had left on a flight after 11:00 pm (1600 GMT).

"She chose Canada... Canada said it will accept her," Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters at Bangkok's main airport.

"She is safe now and has good physical and mental health. She is happy."

Rahaf left from the same airport where her quest for asylum began less than a week ago in a swift-moving process that defied most norms.

- Death threats -

On Friday afternoon Rahaf posted a final cryptic tweet on her profile saying "I have some good news and some bad news" -- shortly after her account was deactivated in response to death threats she had faced, her friends said.

"Rahaf received death threats and for this reason she closed her Twitter account, please save Rahaf life," tweeted supporter @nourahfa313, who has flanked Rahaf's social media campaign with her own updates on Twitter.

Rahaf's swift use of Twitter saw her amass more than 100,000 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 last year.

Her deployment of social media allowed her to avoid the fate of countless other refugees who are quietly sent back home or languish in Bangkok detention centers.

She refused to see her father who traveled to Thailand and expressed opposition to her resettlement.

Surachate said her father and brother were due to return home on a flight in the early hours of Saturday.

Although her asylum case moved fast the final maneuvres that led to her flight to Canada remain largely a mystery.

Australia had dropped strong hints it would accept her after the UN urged the country to do so and it remains unclear why the resettlement location changed.

On Thursday its foreign minister said Canberra was still assessing the request.

Thailand's immigration chief Surachate had earlier told reporters Friday that "two or three" countries were ready to offer her asylum.

The Southeast Asian country is not a signatory to a convention on refugees and asylum seekers must be referred to a third country.

COMMENTS

More Related News

Pompeo in Saudi Arabia, Iran threatens more US drone attacks
Pompeo in Saudi Arabia, Iran threatens more US drone attacks
  • World
  • 2019-06-24 12:03:23Z

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks Monday with the Saudi king and crown prince after days of mounting tensions following the downing of a U.S drone last week and after President Donald Trump pulled back from the brink of retaliatory military strikes on Iran. Iran's naval commander, meanwhile

The Latest: Iran envoy to Japan seeks support over US crisis
The Latest: Iran envoy to Japan seeks support over US crisis

Morteza Rahmani Movahed said on Monday in Tokyo that Iran faces alleged U.S. "economic terrorism" and suspected sabotage attempts in the Persian Gulf. President Donald Trump last year withdrew from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and has imposed sanctions.

Ocasio-Cortez and Steve King trade jabs over
Ocasio-Cortez and Steve King trade jabs over 'concentration camps' reference

"The last time you went on this trip it was reported that you also met w/ fringe Austrian neo-Nazi groups to talk shop," she tweeted.

Pompeo heads to Saudi Arabia, UAE for Iran crisis talks
Pompeo heads to Saudi Arabia, UAE for Iran crisis talks

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday he will visit Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for talks on the crisis sparked by Iran's downing an American drone. "We'll be talking with them about how to make sure that we are all strategically aligned and how we can build out a global coalition" on Iran, he said. Iran shot down a US Global Hawk drone on Thursday, saying it had violated its airspace near the strategic Strait of Hormuz -- a claim the United States denies.

Bogus Brexit murder plot and other lies planted online by Russian accounts: study
Bogus Brexit murder plot and other lies planted online by Russian accounts: study

In August 2018, Spanish authorities uncovered a plot by anti-Brexit campaigners to assassinate leading Brexiteer and now favorite to be Britain's next prime minister, Boris Johnson. The effort employed scores of accounts posting in at least six languages on platforms including Facebook and Twitter

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: Latin America

facebook
Hit "Like"
Don't miss any important news
Thanks, you don't need to show me this anymore.