Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun arrived in Canada after successfully being granted asylum by the North American nation. She was greeted by the Foreign Affairs Minister of Canada, Chrystia Freeland at the Pearson International Airport, Toronto.
Earlier, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that Canada had approved of a request by the United National High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to grant her asylum. He said, “Canada has been unequivocal that we will always stand up for human rights and women’s rights around the world. When the UN made a request of us that we grant Ms. al-Qunun asylum, we accepted.”
This move might further exacerbate the already tense relationship between Canada and Saudi Arabia. Riyadh had expelled Canada’s ambassador and frozen all trade with Canada after the latter asked for a release of the detained woman human rights activists in the Middle Eastern nation.
Early in the week, 18-year old al-Qunun attracted international media attention when she leveraged the power of social media to avoid deportation back to the Middle East. She had boarded a flight from Kuwait to Australia in an attempt to flee from her abusive family based in Saudi Arabia. However, she was stopped en route in Bangkok at the Suvarnabhumi airport and she claimed that her passport was seized by a Saudi official, leaving her stranded and unable to travel further. She barricaded herself in an airport hotel room in Bangkok, refusing to be deported back to her home. A series of tweets that she sent from her Twitter account caught the attention of journalists and human rights associations across the world. Consequently, the #SaveRahaf campaign went viral. What followed was a massive rally of support from various quarters of the world, which culminated in the United Nations intervening and approaching nations across the world to grant her asylum.
This story also brought to light the plight of women in the male-dominated country of Saudi Arabia, where women are considered permanent legal minors. The ‘male guardianship system’ followed in Saudi requires a woman to have the permission of a male relative to travel, get married, or apply for a passport. In 2018, Saudi Arabia became the last country in the world to lift the ban on women drivers. Al-Qunun claimed that she had renounced Islam, an act that is punishable by death in Saudi, and that she would be killed if she was sent back home.
This case is similar to another such case where Dina Ali Lasloom, a Saudi woman, attempted to flee Saudi to seek asylum in Australia in 2017. Unfortunately, she was stopped during transit at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines and deported back to Saudi Arabia much against her wishes. Despite pleading to not be returned to her family for fear of being killed and physically resisting, she was forcibly made to board a plane to Riyadh. Her whereabouts today are unknown.
In the midst of all the bleakness, al-Qunun’s tweet on her journey to Canada to start a new life certainly brings much hope and optimism!
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