Saudi refugee in Thailand headed to Canada

Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al Qunun is escorted by a Thai Immigration Chief Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees officials at Suvarnabhumi international airport in Bangkok on Monday

Rahaf al-Qunun has been granted asylum in Australia, Thai official says

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency welcomes the expected arrival in Canada of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun and the decision of the Canadian Government to provide worldwide protection and a long-term solution for her there as a resettled refugee.

"Canada has granted her asylum", Mr Surachate told Reuters.

She later said she was going to be put on Kuwait Airlines flight 412, which was scheduled to depart Bangkok at 11:15 a.m. local time, to Kuwait en route to Saudi Arabia.

The source, who was not authorized to speak about Canada's role in granting asylum, said the government would not make any public comment until it was assured that she was safely in Canada.

The teenager said she planned to seek asylum in Australia, fearing she would be killed if repatriated by Thai immigration officials who stopped her at the airport.

Confined to an airport transit hotel, Alqunun conducted an online appeal for help, garnering tens of thousands of followers on Twitter and enough public and diplomatic support to convince Thai officials to admit her temporarily under the protection of United Nations officials.

Miss al-Qunun's case has highlighted the cause of women's rights in Saudi Arabia.

Human Rights Watch cited several previous cases of Saudi women trying to flee their families only to face being forcibly returned. Human rights activists have seen no trace of her since.

But just days after fleeing a powerful and allegedly abusive family in Saudi Arabia, al-Qunun has already been judged a legitimate refugee by the United Nations and been in contact with Australian officials in Bangkok about resettlement. Australia had said it was considering whether to offer her asylum, but a UNHCR spokesman hinted in an email to NPR that Ottawa moved more quickly.

Qunun alleged that she was abused by her family - who deny the allegations - and rights groups also said she had renounced Islam, risking prosecution in Saudi Arabia.

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Still Tamara Wood, a lecturer in forced migration at the University of New South Wales, said the speed with which her case is being treated appears quick, but "not unprecedented".

On Friday afternoon she posted a final cryptic tweet on her profile saying "I have some good news and some bad news" - shortly after her account was deactivated in response to death threats she had faced, her friends said.

Shortly after hearing about Qunun's plight, Australia said that it would "carefully consider" granting Qunun a humanitarian protection visa, if she applied for one.

Trudeau brushed off a question as to whether Canada's move might make it harder to fix ties with Saudi Arabia.

In August, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman expelled Canada's ambassador and withdrew his own envoy after Freeland used Twitter to call for the release of women's rights activists who had been arrested in the country.

As a Saudi woman who has publicly scorned her family, experts say she ticks many boxes.

On Friday, Trudeau avoided answering a question about what the case would mean for relations with the kingdom, but he said Canada will always unequivocally stand up for human rights and women's rights around the world.

His case is being considered by Thailand's justice system, she said.

On Thursday, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne visited senior Thai officials in Bangkok to also raise concerns about Hakeem al-Araibi, a 25-year-old former member of Bahrain's national soccer team, detained in Thailand.

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