Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family, is pictured in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) building Bangkok, Thailand, January 11, 2019, before leaving for the airport, after she was granted asylum in Canada. Khaled Ibrahim/UNHCR/Handout via REUTERS
TORONTO (Reuters) – An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family this week saying she feared for her life arrived in Toronto on Saturday after Canada granted her asylum, according to a Reuters witness.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun grabbed international 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. Qunun refused to meet her father and brother, who arrived in Bangkok to try take her back to Saudi Arabia.
Qunun arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on Saturday morning and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland is expected to address the media shortly.
Her case has drawn global attention to Saudi Arabia’s strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male “guardian” to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.
Qunun took a Korean Air flight from Bangkok to Seoul on Friday and then a connecting flight to Toronto.
Qunun arrived in Bangkok a week ago 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.
Within hours, a campaign sprang up dubbed #SaveRahaf, spread on Twitter by a loose network of activists.
Following a 48-hour stand-off at Bangkok airport, some of it barricaded in a transit lounge hotel room, she was allowed to enter the country and has been processed as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Reporting by Chris Helgren; Writing by Denny Thomas; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama