Canada grants asylum to 18-year-old Saudi teen fleeing abusive family

Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun foreground walks by Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn right before leaving Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok

Police Chief Surachate Hakparn said Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who earlier sought asylum in Australia, will board a Korean Air flight to Seoul, where she will take a connecting flight to Canada.

The office of the Canadian foreign minister, however, said that it can not confirm that the Saudi teen was granted asylum in Canada.

Standing with Alqunun by her side at Toronto's airport Saturday, Freeland said: "This a very fearless new Canadian".

The decision to give haven to the 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun capped a almost week-long drama that highlighted the power of social media to call attention to her case and reverse initial plans by Thai officials to deport her to Kuwait, where she fled her family while on holiday.

In Bangkok, Thai agents stopped Alqunun at the airport and seized her passport.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the Saudi asylum seeker, who barricaded herself inside a Bangkok hotel room, is on her way to Canada.

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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.

"Refugee protection today is often under threat and can not always be assured, but in this instance global refugee law and overriding values of humanity have prevailed", UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement.

"Thai authorities should immediately halt any deportation, and either allow her to continue her travel to Australia or permit her to remain in Thailand to seek protection as a refugee". Under the kingdom's strict guardianship laws, adult women must obtain permission from a male guardian to travel overseas, marry or be released from prison.

Her father and brother arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday with the intention of seeing her - but Thai police said she refused to meet them.

Rahaf says her decision to flee Saudi Arabia, and the subsequent social media stir caused by her detention, makes it all the more unsafe for her to return.

"Canada has been unequivocal that we'll stand up for human rights and women's rights around the world", Trudeau told reporters.

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Within 36 hours it prompted Thailand's government to reverse a decision to force the young woman onto a plane that would return her to her family. Human rights activists say many similar cases have gone unreported. In August, Saudi Arabia withdrew its envoy in Ottawa, kicked out the Canadian ambassador, suspended Saudi state airline flights to Toronto and pulled out thousands of students and medical patients from Canada. Alqunun also wrote that she was afraid and that her family would kill her if she were returned home.

It is not known why Ms. a-Qunun made a decision to seek asylum in Canada after she initially expressed a desire to live in Australia.

Because al-Qunun turned up in Thailand - which is not a signatory to the United Nations convention on refugees - settlement there was not an option, prompting the United Nations and other countries to step in.

"There are a lot of gulf countries that you could. poke in the eye", she said.

The news began circulating and eventually Phil Robertson, the Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted out that al-Qunun needed access to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC).

It noted that Hakeem al-Araibi, a refugee and "torture survivor" from Bahrain granted residence in Australia, has been detained by Thailand since November awaiting a hearing on a Bahraini extradition request.

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On Monday, Hakparn said that Qunun was "now under the sovereignty of Thailand" and "we will protect her as best as we can".

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