Ottawa: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday that Canada was taking in an 18-year-old Saudi asylum seeker who fled her family and harnessed the power of Twitter to stave off deportation from Thailand.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun was already en route to Toronto late Friday when the Prime Minister made the surprise announcement, after officials had previously given heavy hints she was bound for Australia.
“Canada has been unequivocal that we’ll stand up for human rights and women’s rights around the world,” Trudeau said Friday. “When the United Nations made a request to us that we grant al-Qunun’s asylum, we accepted.”
The move is sure to further strain Canadian relations with the kingdom that went sideways last August over Ottawa’s rights criticism of Saudi Arabia, prompting Riyadh to expel the Canadian ambassador and sever all trade and investment ties in protest.
Thai authorities initially threatened to deport Qunun after she arrived in Bangkok from Kuwait last weekend. But armed with a smartphone and hastily opened Twitter account, she forced a U-turn from Thai immigration police who handed her into the care of the UN’s refugee agency as the ‘#SaveRahaf’ hashtag bounced across the world.
Rahaf first said she was aiming to settle in Australia where officials had suggested they would give serious consideration to her claim for asylum, which was endorsed as legitimate by the UNHCR, Wednesday.
But Thailand’s immigration police chief said late Friday evening a smiling and cheerful Rahaf was bound for Toronto and had left on a flight after 11:00 pm (local time). “She chose Canada… Canada said it will accept her,” Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters at Bangkok’s main airport.
The UN refugee agency coordinated with Canadian authorities to resettle her there, and she will be in the care of the International Organisation for Migration once she arrives, he added.