Australia defends handling of asylum request as Saudi teen heads to Canada

Marsha Scott
January 13, 2019

Ms Qunun's swift use of Twitter saw her amass over 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.

"This is Rahaf Alqunun", Freeland said, "And she wants Canadians to see that she's arrived at her new home".

"It was her wish to go to Canada", Thailand's immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters. On Friday afternoon she posted a final cryptic tweet on her profile saying "I have some good news and some bad news" - shortly after her account was deactivated.

Qunun's case has drawn worldwide scrutiny to the strict rules many Saudi women face and comes at a time when the Gulf country is under increased scrutiny following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. She, too, used social media in a bid to reach Australia.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada will grant asylum to a Saudi woman fleeing alleged family abuse.

"The quick actions over the past week of the government of Thailand in providing temporary refuge and facilitating refugee status determination by UNHCR, and of the government of Canada in offering emergency resettlement to Ms. Alqunun and arranging her travel were key to the successful resolution of this case", the agency said in a statement.

Alqunun was stopped by Thai authorities where she had shut herself in her airport hotel room.

Qunun, who had initially meant to seek asylum in Australia, chose Canada instead because Australia took too long assessing whether to grant her asylum.

"I want life. I want to be independent", she said.

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Teenage Saudi asylum-seeker Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun landed in Canada on Saturday to an official welcome after fleeing her home country last week.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees welcomed Canada's decision.

Trudeau brushed off a question as to whether Canada's move might make it harder to fix ties with Saudi Arabia.

The 18-year-old's fight against deportation from Thailand as she tried to claim asylum captivated a global audience through her Twitter account, which now has almost 150,000 followers.

"She chose Canada. It's her personal decision", General Surachate told The Associated Press.

Alqunun's father and brother denied any allegations of abuse.

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

"He has 10 children".

Saudi Arabia responded by kicking out the Canadian ambassador, recalling the Saudi ambassador to Canada and all Saudi students studying in the country, and suspending flights as well as "all new businesses transactions and investments linked with Canada". Alqunun's Twitter account - where she published videos and pleas for safety - has since gone dark.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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