Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 January 2020

Rahaf Alqunun arrives in Canada after last-minute offer

The Saudi, 18, fled her family but was stopped in Bangkok airport last week

Rahaf Alqunun, centre left, being accompanied by Thai Immigration Police Chief Surachate Hakparn, centre, to board a flight leaving Thailand. EPA
Rahaf Alqunun, centre left, being accompanied by Thai Immigration Police Chief Surachate Hakparn, centre, to board a flight leaving Thailand. EPA

An 18-year-old Saudi runaway, who says she was abused by her family, touched down in Canada on Saturday after the country offered her asylum.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would accept Rahaf Alqunun as a refugee.

It caps a week that saw her flee her family in Kuwait and fly to Bangkok, where she was stopped and threatened with deportation. The case grabbed global attention after she mounted a social media campaign for asylum.

Chief of Immigration Police Maj Gen Surachate Hakparn, right, walks with Saudi woman Rahaf Alqunun before leaving Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. AP
Ms Alqunun before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. Immigration police via AP

The young woman, who was applying for asylum status in Australia, was in Bangkok for the last week after being stopped in transit by the local authorities who took her passport.

Thai police initially tried to deport the girl back to Kuwait but she missed the flight after barricading herself in her airport hotel room. The authorities then allowed UN refugee officials to meet her and assess a claim for refugee status.

Saudi officials say they did not request Ms Alqunun be deported and did not have anything to do with the handling of the case. Authorities in the kingdom insist it is a family matter although they said the embassy has been giving the case "care and attention" and it has been in contact with Ms Alqunun’s father "to inform him on her situation".


Read more:

Thailand grants reprieve for Rahaf Alqunun as family headed for Bangkok

UNHCR meets Saudi teenager fleeing family in Bangkok airport


After the UN High Commissioner for Refugees confirmed her status, Thailand allowed her to stay temporarily to arrange resettlement in a third country. Although Canberra initially said it would be open to her application, Australian media reported that UNHCR officials were concerned about how long it was taking to process her case.

Reports said that the Canadian embassy stepped in and completed the process within a day.

Thai police said Ms Alqunun flew to Toronto via Seoul. She tweeted two pictures from her plane seat, one with her passport while on the plane with the hashtag "I did it".

Rahaf Alqunun, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family, is seen in a plane in an unknown location after she was granted asylum in Canada, in this picture obtained from social media. Twitter/@rahaf84427714/via Reuters
Rahaf Alqunun tweeted a photo of her passport from her plane seat. Social Media

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees welcomed Canada's decision.

"The quick actions over the past week of the government of Thailand in providing temporary refuge and facilitating refugee status determination by UNHCR, and of the government of Canada in offering emergency resettlement to Ms Alqunun and arranging her travel were key to the successful resolution of this case," the agency said.

Ms Alqunun's father, believed to be a regional official in Saudi Arabia, arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday but his daughter refused to meet him. Thai police said the father – whose name has not been released – denied physically abusing Ms Alqunun or trying to force her into an arranged marriage, which were among the reasons she gave for her flight.

Thai immigration Police Chief Surachate Hakparn said Ms Alqunun's father wanted his daughter back but respected her decision.

"He has 10 children. He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes," Mr Surachate said.

Updated: January 13, 2019 11:06 AM