Canada grants asylum to Saudi woman fleeing alleged abuse

Rahaf Al Qunun

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, the 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled to Thailand to escape her allegedly abusive family, has been granted asylum in Australia, a Thai immigration official said Friday.

Police Chief Surachate Hakparn says the 18-year-old woman, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, is leaving on a flight late Friday evening. No other details were immediately offered.

She has refused to meet her father and brother, who arrived in Bangkok this week to try to take her back to Saudi Arabia while denying accusations that her family was abusing her physically and emotionally, Thai authorities said.

The saga of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun grabbed global attention this week after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to her family, which denies any abuse.

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.

The ultra-conservative kingdom has strict restrictions on women, including a requirement that they must have the permission of male family members to travel.

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

Rahaf´s swift use of Twitter saw her amass more than 100,000 followers within a week, highlighting her plight at a time when Saudi Arabia´s human rights record is under heavy scrutiny following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi previous year.

What happened to Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun?

"She's just been receiving a lot of death threats", McNeill wrote, adding that Alqunun would be back on Twitter after a "short break".

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Ms Payne later told reporters that Australia was assessing Ms al-Qunun's request for resettlement, but there was no specific timeframe.

The top Australian diplomat was expected to meet with Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister Prajin Juntong and hold a bilateral meeting with her Thai counterpart, Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, to discuss Qunun's case.

A branch of the British Broadcasting Corp. has quickly backtracked, deleted its social media comment, and tried to explain when listeners who heard a question it asked about a Muslim teen who fled her home reacted in outrage.

She made headlines earlier this week after she began tweeting from the transit area of Bangkok airport, saying her life would be in danger if she returned to Kuwait.

A Tuesday statement from the Saudi Embassy in Thailand denied interfering in Alqunun's case, and said it was only monitoring her situation.

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne gestures as she answers a journalist's question in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019.

Saudi Arabia's human rights record has come under heavy scrutiny since the brutal murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi a year ago at its consulate in Turkey.

She used a Canadian tourist's phone to send a message, a video of which was posted to Twitter, saying her family would kill her.

Rahaf first said she was aiming for Australia where officials had suggested they would give serious consideration to her claim for asylum, which was endorsed as legitimate by the UNHCR on Wednesday.

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