World

Saudi woman who fled family set to fly to Canada

BANGKOK — An 18-year-old Saudi runaway who feared death at the hands of her family if she were deported home from Thailand left Friday for Canada, where Thai and Canadian officials said she had been granted asylum.

The woman, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, boarded a flight to Seoul late Friday evening and from there was scheduled to fly to Toronto, said the Thai immigration chief, Surachate Hakparn, a police general.

He said Canada had given asylum to Alqunun, which was confirmed a few hours later by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada.

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Trudeau told reporters in Canada that the United Nations refugee agency had asked the Canadian government, “and we have accepted the UN’s request that we grant her asylum.”

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The events signaled a remarkable reversal in Alqunun’s fortunes from less than a week ago, when she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to avoid being sent back.

“She’s lively; she’s smiling and healthy,” Surachate told reporters. “She has determination.”

She escaped from her family in Kuwait last Saturday and flew to Thailand. After being denied entry into the country, she rallied support on Twitter to avoid being deported, saying she feared her relatives might kill her if she were returned to them.

The 48-hour standoff at Suvarnabhumi Airport drew global attention through a social media campaign mounted by Alqunun from the hotel room, as well as by friends and supporters.

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Alqunun’s original destination had been Australia, where she hoped to join other women who have fled Saudi Arabia. The final decision on where to send her was up to the UN refugee agency, which granted her refugee status earlier in the week.

After Thai officials agreed on Monday to let Alqunun leave the airport, they were eager to have her case settled quickly. Complicating matters, her father and brother arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday to make the case that Alqunun should be returned to her family. Alqunun refused to see them.

She said earlier in an interview that her brother had often beaten her, and that her family once locked her in a room for six months because she cut her hair in a way they didn’t like.

After Alqunun arrives in Canada, she will be under the care of the International Organization for Migration.

New York Times