TORONTO – Tired, but smiling, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who said she feared death when she was deported at home, arrived in Canada Saturday, offering her asylum in a case that attracted worldwide attention after setting up a social media campaign .
"This is Rahaf Alqunun, a very brave new Canadian," Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said in arms with the Saudi woman at Toronto Airport.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun smiled broadly when she left the arrival hall of an airport with a ride shake from Canada and a U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees hat, ending a dramatic week that fled her during her visit to Kuwait and before she flew to Bangkok. From there she barricaded herself in an airport hotel to prevent deportation and tweets about her situation.
On Friday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would accept Alqunun as a refugee. Her situation has highlighted the cause of women's rights in Saudi Arabia, where several women who abuse their families have been caught trying to claim asylum abroad and have returned home in recent years.
Freeland said that Alqunun preferred not to ask questions on Saturday.
"It was my pleasure to welcome her in her new home this morning," said Freeland. "She is obviously very tired after a long journey and she preferred to settle in. But it was Rahaf's choice to come out and say hello to Canadians, she wanted the Canadians to see that they were here was that she was right and that she was very happy in her new home. & # 39;
Freeland said that Alqunun commented on the cold weather and she replied that it is getting warmer in Canada.
Alqunun flew to Toronto via Seoul, South Korea, according to Thai Immigration Police Chief Surachate Hakparn. Alqunun tweeted two photo's of her airplane seat – one with what appears to be a glass of wine and her passport and another one holding her passport while she is on the plane with the hashtag "I did it" and the emoji & # 39 ; s with airplane, hearts and wine glass.
Canada's decision to allow its asylum could further disrupt the country's relations with Saudi Arabia.
In August, Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian Ambassador to the kingdom and withdrew his own ambassador after the Canadian Foreign Office had expressed support for women who had activists arrested. The Saudis also sold Canadian investments and instructed their citizens who studied in Canada to leave.
No country, including the US, publicly expressed support for Canada in its bickering with the Saudis. Freeland did not go into what Alqunun's case would mean for Saudi relations.
"Canada is very much committed to standing up for human rights around the world, and we strongly believe that women's rights are human rights," Freeland said.
There was no immediate response from the Saudi government nor any mention of her arrival in state media.
Freeland said it was U.N. The refugee agency found that it was in a dangerous situation in Thailand and that Canada was happy that they were able to act quickly to give them refuge.
Alqunun & # 39; s father arrived in Bangkok Tuesday, but his daughter refused to meet him.
The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees welcomed the decision of Canada.
"The quick actions of the last week of the Thailand government in providing a temporary refuge and facilitating the refugee status determination by the UNHCR, and of the Government of Canada in providing emergency relocation to Ms. Alqunun and arranging her trips were the key to the successful solution of this case, "the agency said in a statement.
Several other countries, including Australia, had talks with the U.N refugee agency. to accept Alqunun, Surachate said.
"She chose Canada, it's her personal decision," he said.
Australian media reported that the UNHCR had withdrawn its reference to Alqunon to be resettled in Australia because it took too long for Canberra to request its asylum.
"When referring cases with specific vulnerabilities that require immediate resettlement, we attach great importance to the speed with which countries treat and treat cases," said a UNHCR spokesman in Bangkok to in an e-mail response on condition of anonymity. because the person was not present. t authorized to discuss the matter in public.
The Canadian Ambassador had seen her at the airport, where Alqunun thanked everyone for helping her. She plans to learn more English, even though she speaks more than reasonably enough.
Alqunun was stopped at the Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok on 5 January by the immigration police refusing her entry and confiscating her passport.
She barricaded herself in an airport hotel room, where the social media campaign received enough public and diplomatic support that the Thai officials temporarily admitted to her under the protection of US officials who granted her refugee status on Wednesday.
Surachate said that her father – whose name had not been released – denied physically abusing Alqunun or attempting to force her into an arranged marriage, which was one of the reasons she gave for her flight. He said that Alqunun & # 39; s father wanted his daughter back, but respected her decision.
"He has 10 children." He said that the daughter might sometimes feel neglected, "Surachate said.
Phil Robertson, Asia's Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch, quoted Alqunun's "Courage and Perseverance."
"This is such a victory for everyone who cares about respecting and promoting women's rights, appreciating the independence of young people to forge their own way, and demanding governments operate in the light and not in darkness," he said in a statement .
The author of the Associated Press, Tassanee Vejpongsa in Bangkok, contributed to this report.
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