Saudi teen flies to asylum in Canada

Saudi teen flies to asylum in Canada

It is almost a week since Rahaf al-Qunun, 18, arrived at Bangkok airport after fleeing her Saudi family, barricaded herself into a hotel room and set up a Twitter account on her phone to beg for global help.

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family saying she feared for her life has been granted asylum in Canada, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday, as Thai officials confirmed the teen was en route to Toronto.

She took a Korean Air flight from Bangkok to Seoul on Friday and then a connecting flight to Toronto, after arriving in Bangkok a week ago and being initially denied entry.

Freeland, however, heaped praise on the young woman who shot to fame through her social media campaign to flee her family. UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi said in a statement on Friday.

Qunun 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. 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.

Canada has previously angered Saudi Arabia after calling for the release of detained women's rights activists in the country - prompting Riyadh to expel Canada's ambassador and freeze all new trade.

Rahaf's swift use of Twitter saw her amass more than 100,000 followers within a week, highlighting her plight and allowing her to avoid the fate of countless other refugees who are quietly sent back home or languish in Bangkok detention centres.

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"She chose Canada. It's her personal decision", General Surachate told The Associated Press. The Saudis also sold Canadian investments and ordered their citizens studying in Canada to leave. It garnered enough public and diplomatic support to convince Thai officials to admit her temporarily under the protection of United Nations officials.

No country, including the USA, spoke out publicly in support of Canada in that spat with the Saudis. She said her father physically abused her and tried to force her into an arranged marriage.

Alqunun's father and brother denied any allegations of abuse. "He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes", Surachate said.

She was off to get winter clothes, said Mario Calla, executive director of COSTI Immigrant Services, which is helping her settle in temporary housing and applying for a health card. Alqunun's Twitter account - where she published videos and pleas for safety - has since gone dark.

Trudeau, when asked whether the country's decision to grant Alqunun asylum would increase tensions, told reporters that "Canada has been unequivocal that we will always stand up for human rights and women's rights around the world".

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

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