Saudi woman to leave Thailand for Canada, immigration chief says

Erika Holt
January 12, 2019

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family and sought asylum when she arrived in Thailand will leave Bangkok for Canada on Friday, a Thai immigration official said.

Canadian authorities said they could not confirm that Qunun had been granted asylum in Canada. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also said there would be no "special treatment" in the case, according to CNN affiliate Nine News. Human rights activists say many more similar cases will have gone unreported.

After the arrests, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, tweeted "Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this hard time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi".

"The Thai government is most certainly aware of the importance of this matter to Australia", she said.

Al-Qunun has alleged that her father physically abused her and tried to force her into an arranged marriage.

Several Saudi women fleeing abuse by their families have tried to seek asylum overseas in recent years but have been sent back home.

A United States news report says the young Saudi woman, who fled from her family during a holiday last weekend, has been granted asylum in Australia.

Alqunun's case has highlighted the cause of women's rights in Saudi Arabia.

She documented her arrival and subsequent detention in Bangkok on her smartphone, creating new Twitter and Periscope accounts where she received a deluge of supportive messages.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun's attempt to flee the ultra-conservative kingdom has been embraced by rights groups as a beacon of defiance against repression.

Payne reiterated Australia's call to Thailand not to send al-Araibi back to Bahrain.

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The 18-year-old woman barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room on Sunday to prevent her forcible return to Saudi Arabia, where she claims her family would kill her because she has renounced Islam. On Wednesday, Australia said it would consider taking Qunun in.

Global News reached out to the UNHCR Canada for a comment, but a spokesperson said due to "protection reasons" the agency can not talk about her case.

Alqunun refused to meet with her father, who arrived in the Thai capital on Tuesday.

Fleeing them while travelling in Kuwait throws her into conflict with Saudi Arabia's "guardianship" system, which allows male family members to make decisions on behalf of female relatives, she said.

Bahrain made a request to have him extradited and he is in jail, waiting for a hearing to decide his case.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with senior Thai officials in Bangkok on Thursday.

The UNHCR welcomed Canada's decision and also acknowledged Thailand had given Qunun temporary refuge.

But armed with a phone, she barricaded herself into an airside hotel room and fought back - live-tweeting her fears of deportation in a campaign that swiftly galvanised worldwide support and prompted a sharp U-turn by Thai officials.

"Obviously the fact that it became high profile may have heightened any risk to her should she return, that's certainly one argument I've seen put", Wong said.

Mr.al-Araibi was convicted for vandalizing a police station in Bahrain and sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia.

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