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Canada grants asylum to Saudi teen fleeing alleged abuse

14 January 2019

With political sentiment and public attitudes towards refugees having hardened in some countries in recent years, resettlement - the mechanism by which has been accepted by Canada - is available only to a fraction of the world's 25.4 million refugees, typically those at greatest risk, such as women at risk.

A Saudi asylum seeker who fled alleged abuse by her family is leaving Bangkok on Friday and will fly to Canada, Thailand's immigration police chief said.

Her friends said she had suffered abuse at family members' hands.

"She is safe, and she is in good health, and good mental health".

Ms Qunun took a Korean Air flight from Bangkok to Seoul on Friday and then a connecting flight to Toronto.

The move to accept Alqunun could serve to heighten tensions between Canada and Saudi Arabia.

Thai authorities have denied Rahaf access to the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees to make a refugee claim, Human Rights Watch said in a press release.

Qunun's story has also put Saudi Arabia's male guardianship system, which restricts many aspects of women's lives, back under worldwide scrutiny.

"I'm 100 per cent sure they will KILL me", she told Global News in a Twitter message, saying her family had threatened her after she renounced Islam.

Her case has drawn global attention to Saudi Arabia's strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male "guardian" to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families. Several countries, including Australia, had said they could welcome Alqunun as a refugee.

The UNHCR eventually granted her refugee status on Wednesday and several countries, including Canada and Australia, had been in talks with the United Nations refugee agency to accept her.

Robertson said Thai authorities were spreading fake stories about Rahaf, citing one Thai immigration official's remark to CNN in which he said Rahaf was denied entry into Thailand because she didn't have the requisite documents.

Trudeau's surprise announcement came after officials had heavily hinted that she was bound for Australia.

"Canada will always stand up for human rights, very much including women's rights".

The Twitter account used by Qunun throughout her appeal for asylum was temporarily deactivated Friday but she later reappeared online, posting images from an airplane seat of what appeared to be her Saudi passport and boarding pass.

She barricaded herself in an airport hotel room and took her plight onto social media.

Rahaf Al-Qunun left Bangkok for Toronto on Friday after a day of confusion over where she would be resettled.

She was eventually allowed to enter the country and has been processed as a refugee by the UN Refugee Agency.

"Yes, Australian has granted her asylum, but we are waiting to hear where exactly she is going", immigration police chief Surachate Hakparn confirmed to CNN. Several female Saudis fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum overseas in recent years and returned home.

Yesterday Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said there would be no "special treatment" in the assessment of Ms al-Qunun's case.

"I survived from death", she said, reflecting that since the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Instabul she has feared for her own life.

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

Canada grants asylum to Saudi teen fleeing alleged abuse