Rahaf Alqunun, the 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family saying she feared for her life, has landed in Canada, after being granted asylum in the North American country.
Alqunun was welcomed by Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland at Toronto’s airport on Saturday.
“This is a very brave new Canadian,” Freeland told reporters, with a smiling Alqunun standing by her side.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday that Canada had accepted a request from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to take in Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, who grabbed international attention earlier this week after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to her family, which denies any abuse.
Freeland told media that the decision to accept Alqunun’s request was part of Canada’s “policy of supporting women and girls around the world.”
“It’s obvious that the oppression of women is not a problem that can be resolved in a day, but rather than cursing the darkness we believe in lighting a single candle,” she said. “Where we can save a single woman, a single person that’s a good thing to do.”
Alqunun took to Twitter to thank those who had helped her. “I would like to thank you people for supporting me and saiving [sic] my life,” she wrote.
Reporting from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna said that Alqunun will now begin her “new life away from Saudi Arabia”.
“This was all arranged in an absolute rush with the UNHCR getting directly involved, approaching the Canadians, the Canadians coming through very quickly with the decision to grant her asylum,” Hanna said.
Canada’s decision to grant Rahaf asylum is likely to exacerbate Canada’s already poor relations with Saudi Arabia, which last year barred the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh after Ottawa criticised Saudi authorities for detaining female activists.
Alqunun had arrived in Bangkok on January 5 and was initially denied entry, but she soon started posting messages on Twitter from the transit area of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport saying she had “escaped Kuwait” and her life would be in danger if forced to return to Saudi Arabia.