An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family this week, fearing for her life, arrived Saturday at the Toronto International Airport after getting asylum in Canada, where the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, welcomed her as a brave new Canadian.
Rahaf Mohammed al Qunun has attracted the attention of the international community this week after being barricaded in a hotel room at Bangkok airport so as not to be sent home in her family. .
Qunun refused to meet her father and brother, who arrived in Bangkok to try to bring her back to Saudi Arabia.
Qunun arrived at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Saturday morning, wearing a hooded sweatshirt adorned with the word Canada in red and a blue cap bearing the logo of the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), which granted her refugee status.
In his last tweet before leaving for Toronto, Qunun said, "I did it" and posted photos from inside a plane.
Freeland, who received Qunun at the airport, told reporters that Qunun was "a very brave new Canadian".
"Rahaf wanted Canadians to see that she arrived in her new home," Freeland told the press. "But her journey has been very long and tiring so she would prefer not to answer questions today, and she will now go to her new home."
A smiling Qunun greeted reporters as she entered the international arrivals area but did not speak to the media. After a brief appearance, she was brought back to the airport terminal.
Canada's decision to grant asylum to Qunun comes at a delicate time. Relations between Ottawa and Riyadh have been tense since Canada called for the immediate release of human rights activists jailed last year, infuriating Saudi Arabia for retaliating by blocking new trade relations with Ottawa.
Qunun, who initially intended to seek asylum in Australia, chose Canada because Australia was too late to determine whether or not to grant asylum.
"Australia takes too much time, which is why I went to Canada," she told Reuters in a direct message before boarding her flight to Toronto. Qunun took a Korean Air flight from Bangkok to Seoul on Friday, then a connecting flight to Toronto.
Her case has drawn the world's attention to Saudi Arabia's strict social rules, including the obligation for women to move, which, according to human rights groups in Saudi Arabia. Man, can imprison women and girls as prisoners of violent families.
Qunun arrived in Bangkok a week ago and was initially denied entry. But she quickly started posting messages on Twitter from the transit area of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport, in which she claimed that she "had escaped from Kuwait" and that her life would be in danger if she was forced to return to Saudi Arabia.
In a few hours, a campaign called #SaveRahaf was posted on Twitter by a network of cowardly activists.
After a 48-hour break at the Bangkok airport, part of which was barricaded in a transit lounge hotel room, she was allowed to enter the country and was treated as a refugee by UNHCR.
Last updated: January 12, 2019 at 22:40