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Saudi teen granted Canada asylum: Thai authorities

12 January 2019
Saudi teen granted Canada asylum: Thai authorities

A Saudi woman who fled her family claiming fear of her life and used social media to amplify her calls for safe haven was granted asylum to Canada on Friday, an official in Thailand said.

The woman - in a widely followed social media campaign - had said she had "escaped Kuwait" and her life would have been in danger if Thailand had deported her back to Saudi Arabia.

The human rights group Amnesty International said yesterday it welcomed the decision by UNHCR to grant refugee status to the teenage Saudi runaway.

Under Saudi Arabia's "male guardianship system", a Saudi woman is required to obtain a male relative's approval to apply for a passport, travel outside the country, study overseas on a government scholarship, get married, leave prison, or even exit a shelter for abuse victims.

Several Saudi women fleeing abuse by their families have tried to seek asylum overseas in recent years but have been sent back home.

The next day, Canada's Foreign Ministry issued a tweet calling on Saudi Arabia to "immediately release" Samar Badawi as well as "all other peaceful #humanrights activists".

Their comments included "You're a waste of taxpayer's money", and a BBC official backtracked, with, "We accept that the original wording of our tweet did not reflect the question being posed on air and was open to misinterpretation".

On Friday, Ms al-Qunun wrote on Twitter that she had "some good news and some bad news", before deleting her account.

During her trip, Payne met with her Thai counterpart, Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.

"When the United Nations made a request of us that we grant al-Qunun's asylum, we accepted". She was admitted to Thailand on Monday while the United Nations processed her request.

She is now en route to Canada, according to the Thai immigration chief.

Thai immigration officials told Reuters that Canada had "granted her asylum", however Canadian officials told the BBC they now have "nothing to confirm" on the issue.

The fast-moving developments capped an eventful week for Rahaf Mohammed al Qunun.

They heard the question as whether the teen should be killed for leaving Islam.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR had referred Qunun's protection request to Australia on Wednesday, though it had not been confirmed before now that Canada was also considering her case.

"Another young Saudi girl - another genuine refugee - was dragged back from an airport to Saudi Arabia to a presumably frightful fate while trying to escape the country in 2017".

She documented her arrival and subsequent detention in Bangkok on her smartphone, creating new Twitter and Periscope accounts where she received a deluge of supportive messages.

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.

A Tuesday statement from the Saudi Embassy in Thailand denied interfering in Alqunun's case, and said it was only monitoring her situation.

He was arrested while vacationing in Thailand in November due to an Interpol notice in which Bahrain sought his custody after he was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalizing a police station - a charge he denies.