Tired but smiling, an 18-year-old Saudi runaway who said she feared death if deported back home has arrived in Canada, which had offered her asylum in a case that attracted global attention after she mounted a social media campaign.
“This is Rahaf Alqunun, a very brave new Canadian,” Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said arm-in-arm with the Saudi teen in Toronto’s airport.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun smiled broadly as she exited an airport arrival door sporting a Canada zipper hoodie and a UN High Commissioner for Refugees hat, capping a dramatic week that saw her flee her family while visiting Kuwait and then flying to Bangkok.
From there, she barricaded herself in an airport hotel to avoid deportation and tweeted about her situation.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would accept Ms Alqunun as a refugee.
Several other countries, including Australia, had been in talks with the UN’s refugee agency to accept Ms Alqunun, Thai immigration Police Chief Surachate Hakparn said.
“She chose Canada. It’s her personal decision,” he said.
The UNHCR withdrew its referral for Ms Alqunon to be resettled in Australia because Canberra was taking too long to decide on her asylum.
Ms Alqunun went to the Australian embassy in Bangkok on Wednesday and completed the visa application.
But Australian officials confirmed to the ABC that her case was still being processed late on Friday.
There was growing concern within the UNHCR over Ms Alqunun’s security as she remained in Bangkok.
With these security fears in mind, she was taken to the Canadian embassy in Bangkok on Friday morning. Her visa was processed within several hours and she was booked on a flight to Canada in the afternoon.
“When referring cases with specific vulnerabilities who need immediate resettlement, we attach great importance to the speed at which countries consider and process cases,” a UNHCR spokesperson in Bangkok told AP in an email reply on condition of anonymity.
Canada’s ambassador had seen her off at the airport, where Ms Alqunun thanked everyone for helping her. She plans to start learning more English.