Thai police: Canada, Australia willing to accept Saudi woman

Larry Hoffman
January 12, 2019

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun walks by Thailand Chief of Immigration Police Major General Surachate Hakparn, right, before leaving Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, 7 January. "She'll leave tonight at 11.15pm (16:15 GMT)".

Canadian diplomats in the Thai capital were seized with her plight immediately, and though Alqunun originally said she wanted to reach Australia, it became clear in the past week that Canada represented her quickest path to freedom.

"Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights, to stand up for women's rights around the world, and I can confirm that we have accepted the U.N.'s request", he told reporters.

The young woman's story made global headlines after she was stopped at a Bangkok airport on Saturday by Thai immigration police, denied entry and had her passport seized.

Within hours, a campaign sprang up, spread by a loose network of online activists, and the world watched as she refused to board a flight to Saudi Arabia and barricade herself inside a transit lounge hotel room.

The UNHCR granted her refugee status, and Australia's Department of Home Affairs told NPR that Australia would "consider this referral [for refugee resettlement] in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals".

The ultra-conservative kingdom has strict restrictions on women, including a requirement that they must have the permission of male family members to travel.

Justin Trudeau has confirmed that Canada will grant asylum to a Saudi woman who received refugee status this week after fleeing alleged abuse from her family. Human rights activists say many more similar cases will have gone unreported.

She said she raised Australia's concerns about the case with Thailand's deputy prime minister and foreign minister.

"Canada has always been unequivocal that we will always stand up for human rights and women's rights around the world", Trudeau said.

Qunun had previously expressed wanting to come to Canada on her Twitter account, which was deleted on Friday after getting death threats, Reuters reported.

A Saudi teenager who took to social media to plead for asylum, is now en route to Canada.

Footage released by Thai immigration shows Abdulilah al-Shouaibi, Saudi embassy charge d'affaires in Bangkok, complaining in a meeting Tuesday with Gen Surachate that Ms Qunun's smartphone should have been confiscated.

Her possession of an Australian tourist visa and very public expression of interest in going to Australia put pressure on Canberra to take the lead.

She quashed speculation that Alqunun might accompany her back to Australia, "because there are steps which are required in the process which Australia, and any other country considering such a matter, would have to go through".

She was on her way to Australia when she was stopped by Thai authorities.

The Associated Press reported last October that Saudi Arabia was paying lobbyists, lawyers and public relations experts almost $6 million (€5.2 million) a year following the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggiin Istanbul, later admitted as murder.

If Canada is taking Alqunun, it could further upset Saudi-Canada relations. The two men planned to return to Saudi Arabia early Saturday, he said.

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