Rahaf al-Qunun flying to Canada in asylum bid

Leroy Wright
January 12, 2019

Several countries including Canada and Australia are in talks with the United Nations refugee agency to accept a Saudi asylum seeker who fled alleged abuse from her family, Thai police said Friday.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, a Saudi woman who claims to be fleeing her country and family, is seen in Bangkok, Thailand, Jan. 7, 2019 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media.

She said she suffered physical abuse at the hands of family members and alleged they had tried to marry her off against her will. Alqunun's family so far hasn't commented publicly on the accusations.

She refused to meet with them.

"The UNHCR has made a request of Canada that we accept Ms.al-Qunun as a refugee and we have accepted the UN's request that we grant her asylum", said Trudeau at a news conference in Saskatchewan.

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.

'The UNHCR has referred Ms Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement, ' Australia's Home Affairs Department said.

There was "no possibility" that al-Qunun would return to Australia with her yesterday, said Payne, who declined to speculate on a timeframe for giving the Saudi teen asylum if she were granted refugee status.

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

Australia said on Wednesday that it was considering taking in Qunun.

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"The unique thing about this case is that she had access to social media, and was able to report on it and bring the world's attention to her plight", said Pearson.

In recent weeks Canada has issued sanctions against 17 Saudis linked to the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey and is reviewing its deal to supply light armoured vehicles to the kingdom.

Sophie McNeill, a reporter with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who got in contact with Alqunun while she was stuck in the airport hotel room and has kept in touch with her, said Friday in a Twitter posting that Alqunun "is safe and fine".

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

A UNHCR representative said "the process is still ongoing".

"Another young Saudi girl - another genuine refugee - was dragged back from an airport to Saudi Arabia to a presumably awful fate while trying to escape the country in 2017".

Ms Alqunun had flown to Thailand from Kuwait to escape her family, saying she feared they would kill her because she renounced Islam. The 18-year-old arrived in Thailand on Saturday.

The top Australian diplomat was expected to meet with Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister Prajin Juntong and hold a bilateral meeting with her Thai counterpart, Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, to discuss Qunun's case. Her fate on arriving back in Saudi Arabia remains unknown.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also said there would be no "special treatment" in the case, according to CNN affiliate Nine News.

The ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has come under fire since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country's consulate in Istanbul past year.

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