Rahaf al-Qunun flying to Canada in asylum bid

12 January, 2019, 11:15 | Author: Rachel Logan
  • BBC asks if Muslim teenager who fled Saudi ‘should be killed for leaving Islam’

Her tweets attracted the attention of the United Nations, the Australian government and reporters.

Australia has said it will assess the runaway Saudi woman for settlement after the United Nations deemed her a refugee.

"At the time of the UNHCR's referral to Canada on January 11, the assessment of Ms Al-Qunun's case by Australian officials was progressing".

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

Alqunun's appeal for refugee status also underscored the severe restrictions that women in Saudi Arabia face. Ms al-Qunun left Thailand en route to Canada today.

On Wednesday, Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Stefano Maron told CNN that Canada is very concerned by, and is closely watching, Qunun's case.

Payne told reporters that Canberra was "engaged in the steps of the assessment process of al-Qunun as required".

She was later allowed to enter Bangkok.

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne gestures as she answers a journalist's question in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019.

Qunun was trying to reach Australia to seek asylum there but was stopped by Saudi and Kuwaiti immigration officials during transit at the Bangkok airport.

Alqunun arrived in Bangkok last Saturday on a flight from Kuwait after running away from her family. Human rights activists say many such cases have gone unreported.

"Usually it's really very slow", said Mary Anne Kenny, a veteran legal practitioner and expert in Australian migration at Perth's Murdoch University. It said her case had inspired millions and should remind people of the bravery and sacrifices of people who flee their native lands for safety.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun has boarded a plane in Bangkok and was expected to fly to Canada, Thai immigration police told The Associated Press on Friday.

More news: Deputy US Attorney General Rosenstein expected to resign in weeks

Australia had been one of the countries weighing offering Ms Alqunun asylum. The Southeast Asian country is not a signatory to a convention on refugees and asylum seekers must be referred to a third country.

It wasn't immediately clear what prompted Alqunon to choose Canada over Australia. It might be that Australia's tough line towards refugees, and the insistence of its Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton that she would get no special treatment, threatened to slow down the processing of her application.

No country, including the USA, spoke out publicly in support of Canada in that spat with the Saudis.

Saudi Arabia's human rights record has come under heavy scrutiny since the brutal murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi previous year at its consulate in Turkey.

Under Saudi Arabia's "male guardianship system", a Saudi woman is required to obtain a male relative's approval to apply for a passport, travel outside the country, study overseas on a government scholarship, get married, leave prison, or even exit a shelter for abuse victims.

The comments sparked anger on social media.

"My family is strict and locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair". She said she feared her family, which she accused of abuse, would kill her.

"The safety of Ms Al-Qunun has always been the Australian Government's primary concern, and we have been working with the UNHCR and worldwide partners to ensure her claim is assessed appropriately", he said.

Two days - and some 80,000 followers - later, she was cheered out of the airport by a legion of online followers.

Has anything like this happened before?

The Trudeau government's decision is sure to further strain Canada's relations with Saudi Arabia.

Alqunun deactivated her Twitter account on Friday.

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