Canada grants asylum to Saudi woman in Thailand

Canada grants asylum to Saudi woman in Thailand

Following a 48-hour stand-off at Bangkok airport, some of it barricaded in a transit lounge hotel room, she was allowed to enter Thailand and was then processed as a refugee by the UNHCR.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, arrived in Thailand on Saturday and was initially denied entry.

She refused to fly back and barricaded herself into her airport hotel room, attracting global attention.

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

The human rights group Amnesty International said yesterday it welcomed the decision by UNHCR to grant refugee status to the teenage Saudi runaway.

Several other countries, including Australia, had said they could welcome Alqunun as a refugee.

In August, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada's ambassador to the kingdom and withdrew its own ambassador after Canada's foreign ministry tweeted support for the arrests of women's right activists.

On Friday, Qunun's twitter account appeared to have been deleted.

The 18-year-old fled her family, saying she feared for her life.

Ms Alqunun will board a connecting flight to Toronto from Seoul's Incheon airport.

The decision is likely to exacerbate Canada's already poor relations with Saudi Arabia, which past year barred the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh after Ottawa criticized Saudi authorities for detaining women's' activists.

Ms Qunun'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 previous year.

Describing her case as a "family affair", it said Saudi officials had neither seized her passport - as Alqunun had claimed several times - nor demanded her deportation back home.

Alqunun's father and brother, who denied any allegations of abuse, travelled to Thailand and attempted to meet her, but Hakparn said as of Friday morning she had refused the meeting.

"I'm ashamed", Australian makeup artist Chloe Morello, who is also friends with Ms Qunun, tweeted.

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Thailand, which is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, has a mixed history of handling asylum seekers.

It is not clear why the Australian option fell through, and the United Nations switched to Canada.

The Department of Home Affairs said it "will consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals".

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.

He described the man as being a governor in Saudi Arabia.

The representative in Australia of Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, said it was encouraging that Alqunun was able to highlight her situation using social media, and she hoped more Saudi women might act similarly. "I can't study and work in my country, so I want to be free and study and work as I want".

But it also needs to realise the dangers facing the Alaraibi, she added.

"Yes, Australian has granted her asylum, but we are waiting to hear where exactly she is going", a Thai immigration police officer told CNN.

'They don't know about my life and they don't know how my family treats me, ' she said.

Thai authorities had threatened to deport her but with the help of activists, diplomats and a hastily opened Twitter account Qunun launched an impassioned campaign for asylum. "She's just been receiving a lot of death threats".

Has anything like this happened before?

Qunun's case is unusual because of the speedy offer of resettlement.

If Canada is taking Alqunun, it could further upset Saudi-Canada relations.

She used a Canadian tourist's phone to send a message, a video of which was posted to Twitter, saying her family would kill her.

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