Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, right, walks with an unidentified companion in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. Photo: Sakchai Lalit (AP)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has confirmed that Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, the 18-year-old Saudi woman who escaped her family and pleaded for protection on social media, has been granted asylum in Canada.
“The [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] has made a request of Canada that we accept Ms. Alqunun as a refugee, and we have accepted the UN’s request that we grant her asylum,” Trudeau said Friday. “That is something that we are pleased to do because Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights, stand up for women’s rights around the world.”
Alqunun reportedly fled her family—who she’s accused of beating her and threatening to kill her—while they were vacationing in Kuwait, at which time she boarded a plane to Thailand with the goal of reaching Australia. The New York Times reported last week that upon landing in Thailand, Alqunun was met by authorities who confiscated her passport and informed her that she needed to return to her family in Saudi Arabia. Alqunun ultimately barricaded herself inside of a hotel at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, where she’s been for roughly a week.
Alqunun’s plight gained widespread media attention after she began tweeting her story in early January. The young woman repeatedly claimed that she would face torture or even death at the hands of her family should she be forced to return. Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that Saudi women who attempt to escape their families “can face severe violence from relatives, deprivation of liberty, and other serious harm if returned against their will.”
Human rights activists have pointed to Alqunun’s story as underscoring the dangers often faced by women in Saudi Arabia, as well as the extraordinary lengths to which many must go to escape dire circumstances. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi in a statement said that Alqunun’s story provided “a glimpse into the precarious situation of millions of refugees worldwide.”
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, tweeted Friday that Alqunun’s triumph was “a victory for everyone who cares about respecting and promoting women’s rights.” Alqunun, who has amassed a Twitter following of 139,000, thanked supporters in a tweet for “supporting me and [saving] my life.”
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