Saudi Woman Fleeing Family Travels to Canada for Asylum

BBC asks if Muslim teenager who fled Saudi ‘should be killed for leaving Islam’

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who said she was abused by her family and feared for her life if deported back home left Thailand on Friday night for Canada, which has granted her asylum, officials said.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR had referred Ms Alqunun's protection request to Australia on Wednesday, though it had not been confirmed before now that Canada was also considering her case.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Ms Qunun was stopped by authorities at Bangkok's main airport as she arrived on a flight from Kuwait on the weekend after running away from her family, who she says subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

Thai officials allowed her temporary protection of United Nations officials on Wednesday after initially threatening to deport her.

She has alleged that she will be killed if she is made to return to Saudi Arabia, where women are subjected to anachronistic social restrictions, including under strict "male guardianship" practices.

Several Saudi women fleeing abuse by their families have tried to seek asylum overseas in recent years but have been sent back home. Human rights activists say many similar cases go unreported.

Canada's apparent decision to accept Qunun could further upset its relationship with Saudi Arabia.

The case is the latest highlighting widespread subservient treatment of women in Saudi Arabia.

It praised Thailand for its actions in Ms Qunun's case, but said the country had not treated other asylum-seekers in the same responsible manner.

In response, Saudi Arabia accused Canada of interfering in its internal affairs and expelled the Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia and recalled its own ambassador from Ottawa.

"We have nothing new to add on this right now", said a spokesman for Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, but a source told The Globe and Mail that she was headed to Canada.

"Rahaf temporarily suspended her #Twitter account because she has been receiving some very nasty, very real death threats". "It was her wish to go to Canada", Surachate said. "Just hearing this breaks my heart", she wrote in a message posted on Twitter.

Australia was assessing a request to resettle her, but hours after the young woman tweeted that she had "some good news and some bad news".

"I think the most important thing is a young woman in these very very hard circumstances is supported appropriately through the United Nations processes and that countries like Australia who are in a position potentially to provide her with support are able to work from that point once those are finalised and determine what the next steps are", Ms Payne said.

Ms. Payne's visit has also thrown a spotlight on another refugee case, involving Bahrain footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, who has refugee status in Australia but was arrested at Bangkok airport previous year after arriving for his honeymoon.

Amid global outrage at Saudi Arabia over last year's murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Ms Qanun's tweets from Bangkok airport sparked an online campaign.

Mr Trudeau said Canada would always help to defend human rights and the rights of women.

He was arrested while vacationing in Thailand in November due to an Interpol notice in which Bahrain sought his custody after he was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalizing a police station - a charge he denies.

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