From Voice of America
Canada’s Foreign Minister said Saturday, after a young Saudi women fled to Canada out of fear for her life, that Canada believes “very strongly that women’s rights are human rights.”
Eighteen-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun was greeted by Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland as she arrived from Thailand in the Canadian city of Toronto Saturday morning via Seoul, South Korea.
Canada granted Alqunun asylum after she fled her family out of fear for her life.
“It is absolutely the case that there are many women, far, far too many women who are in dangerous situations, both in Canada and around the world,” Freeland told reporters at a Toronto airport shortly after Alqunun’s arrival. “For a single woman or girl to be in a dangerous situation is one too many.”
Freeland added that granting asylum to Alqunun “is part of a broader Canadian policy of supporting women and girls in Canada and around the world.”
Alqunun made a brief appearance before reporters after her arrival, but Freeland said she declined to speak because she was “very tired after a long journey” and preferred to “get settled.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed earlier that his country had granted Alqunun asylum and said the teenager had chosen to live in Canada.
Several other countries, including Australia, had been in talks with the U.N.’s refugee agency to accept Alqunun’s bid for asylum.
Trudeau said that Canada was “pleased” to grant Alqunun asylum because “Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights and to stand up for women’s rights around the world.”
Alqunun arrived in Bangkok, Thailand on January 5 on a flight from Kuwait after running away from her family. After initially being denied entry into Thailand, she barricaded herself in an airport hotel room and posted pictures and texts of herself on Twitter, drawing global attention to her plight. The attention prompted Thai immigration authorities to reverse their earlier decision to send her back to Saudi Arabia.
Alqunun has accused her family of abuse, and had refused to meet her father who traveled to Bangkok to try take her back to Saudi Arabia.
“My family is strict and locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair. I am 100 percent certain they will kill me as soon as I get out of the Saudi jail,” she tweeted while in Thailand.
Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has come under heavy scrutiny since the brutal murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year at its consulate in Turkey. The ultra-conservative kingdom has strict restrictions on women, including a requirement that they must have the permission of male family members to travel.
Another Saudi woman, Dina Lasloom, flew to the Philippines in 2017 while trying to escape Saudi Arabia.
An airline security official reported seeing her dragged out of the airport with her mouth, hands and feet bound with duct tape. Human rights activists have seen no trace of her since.