A Saudi refugee who feared her family would kill her for renouncing Islam is bound for Canada, and has been welcomed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, took a flight to Seoul, South Korea, with a final destination of Toronto, in a surprise twist after officials gave 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. ‘When the United Nations made a request of us that we grant miss (Rahaf Mohammed) al-Qunun’s asylum, we accepted.’
Canada’s ambassador saw her off at the airport, Mr Surachate said, adding that she looked happy and healthy. ‘She chose Canada. It’s her personal decision,’ he said.
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Canada has emerged as a potential new home for Saudi refugee Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun (pictured) despite Australia’s willingness to consider her application for asylum
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun (pictured) previously reacted to news Australia was considering granting her asylum, saying, ‘Is it true??? Australia wants me to go there??? I’m so happy’
Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne had earlier met with senior Thai officials in Bangkok, where Ms al-Qunun is currently located, on Thursday.
Ms Payne later told reporters that Australia was assessing Ms al-Qunun’s request for resettlement but there was no specific timeframe.
Thailand’s immigration police chief, Surachate Hakparn, told reporters the U.N. was accelerating the case, though he gave no indication of when the process would be complete.
Despite having harnessed the power of Twitter to stave off deportation on Friday, she abruptly suspended her account, with friends saying she had received death threats.
Thai authorities had initially threatened to deport her after she arrived in Bangkok from Kuwait last weekend.
Armed with a smartphone, she hastily opened Twitter account and forced a U-turn from Thai immigration police who handed her into the care of the UN’s refugee agency as the #SaveRahaf hashtag case bounced across the world.
On Friday afternoon she posted a final cryptic tweet on her profile saying ‘I have some good news and some bad news’ – shortly after her account was deactivated.
Her tweet garnered plenty of reactions on social media, which speculated the reasons for the account deactivation.
Ms al-Qunun (pictured at Bangkok airport) ran away from a family trip to Kuwait last week and flew to Thailand in the hope of reaching Australia on a tourist visa
‘Rahaf received death threats and for this reason she closed her Twitter account, please save Rahaf life,’ @nourahfa313 wrote.
‘I understand that there have been death threats against her but I don’t know the details,’ said Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch.
The 18-year-old’s swift use of Twitter saw her amass more than 100,000 followers within a week, highlighting her plight and allowing her to avoid the fate of countless other refugees who are quietly sent back home or languish in detention centres.
Though her asylum case has moved at lightning speed, the mystery over which country will accept Ms al-Qunun remains.
Australia seemed the likely destination until news of the UNHCR withdrawing its referral.
The 18-year-old was stopped at a Bangkok airport on Saturday by Thai immigration police who denied her entry and seized her passport.
Ms al-Qunun was set to undergo Australian checks for a humanitarian visa, including character and security assessments
The 18-year-old (pictured with her 12-year-old sister Joud) said she had ‘escaped Kuwait’ and that her life would be in danger if she were forced to return to Saudi Arabia
She made headlines earlier this week after she began tweeting from the transit area of Bangkok airport, saying her life would be in danger if she returned to Kuwait.
Within hours, she amassed a huge following on Twitter as she refused to board a flight back the conservative kingdom and barricaded herself inside a hotel room.
Thai authorities eventually allowed her to enter the country on Monday evening and the UN refugee agency referred Rahaf to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees eventually granted her refugee status on Wednesday.
A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs later confirmed they were considering the 18-year-old for refugee resettlement.
‘The Department of Home Affairs will consider this referral in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals,’ the spokesperson said at the time.
The 18-year-old was detained in Thailand following her arrival in the country. She is pictured having barricaded herself in an airport hotel room in a bid to avoid deportation
Ms al-Qunun previously said on her Twitter account that she wished to seek refuge in Australia.
She also opened up about living with her family in Saudi Arabia, describing it as difficult as she had no freedom.
‘It was so bad. I mean, of course there are good days but they hurt me a lot.
‘I have no choice to choose what I want,’ she said.
The 18-year-old even railed against online trolls who were spreading rumours on social media that she was lying about her situation.
‘They don’t know about my life and they don’t know how my family treats me,’ she said.
‘I want life. I want to be independent. How can they say this just because I do something they don’t like?
‘I want to become a strong woman, I want freedom of expression, of religion and politics. I want to live a normal life.’
Ms al-Qunun has also claimed her family would kill her if she were sent home to Saudi Arabia, where she has renounced Islam and ‘rebelled’ against her father.