PHOTOS: Saudi Arabian Teen Fleeing Abuse Arrives at Pearson Airport

A concerning and suspenseful saga has come to a happy end, as a teen allegedly fleeing an abusive family environment in Saudi Arabia has arrived in Canada after being granted asylum by the federal government.

On Jan. 12, Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, arrived at Pearson International Airport in Mississauga to welcome 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammad Alqunun.

Alqunun made international headlines after fleeing from her allegedly abusive family during a trip to Kuwait. In a move to escape her family—Alqunun has accused her father of being physically abusive—the Saudi teen fled to Thailand and barricaded herself in a Bangkok hotel room and refused to return to Saudi Arabia.

She then launched a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #SaveRahaf to tell the public of her plight, and governments from around the world paid attention.

Rahaf Al Qanun made headlines for being the brave, fearless teenager who barricaded herself in a hotel room in Thailand and refused to be put on a plane back to Saudi Arabia. Defying her family, her government, and ALL the odds against her, Rahaf has landed safely in Canada,” reads a GoFundMe page started by Yasmine Muhammad and Ensaf Haider.

Muhammad and Haider, who call themselves Alqunun’s Canadian Family, say their #SaveRahaf GoFundMe project is the only official fundraising campaign for the teen. The campaign aims to raise $10,000 to give the teen a head start in her home (and help her purchase some much warmer attire).

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that Canada would be accepting Alqunun as a refugee on Jan. 11.

Canada, as you know, has been closely following the situation with Ms. Rahaf Alqunun. Our diplomats in Thailand have been engaged with our partners and allies and particularly with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees,” Trudeau told reporters.

The UNHCR has made a request for Canada that we accept Ms. Alqunun as a refugee, and we have accepted the UN’s request that we grant her asylum. That is something that we are pleased to do because Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights and to stand up for women’s rights around the world. I can confirm that we have accepted the UN’s request.”

After confirming that Canada would be welcoming Alqunun, a reporter asked Trudeau if the move would make Canada’s already frosty relationship with Saudi Arabia worse.

Canada has been unequivocal that we will always stand up for human rights and women’s rights around the world. This is part of a long tradition of Canada engaging positively.”

In the summer of 2018, a dispute between Canada and Saudi Arabia made international headlines when Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman expelled Canada’s ambassador after Freeland took to Twitter to call for the release of women’s rights activists who had been arrested in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabian rulers also pulled Saudi nationals out of Canadian universities in the wake of the dispute.

But international disputes aside, it would hard—if not impossible—to fault Canada for offering asylum to a distressed teen that hails from a country that’s known for its regressive record on women’s rights and freedoms.

In fact, the kingdom’s guardianship system still ensures women need permission from men to perform the most basic of tasks.

Women were not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia until June 2018. According to the BBC, women in Saudi Arabia still cannot open their own bank accounts, get a passport for traveling abroad, get married or divorced without a male guardian’s permission, socialize with opposite sex friends (women cannot sit with single males in public establishments) or dress “immodestly” (even though women are not required to cover their faces, they must be covered head to toe).

Alqunun has continuously thanked Canada on Twitter.

As far as next steps go, the UNHCR says COSTI Immigration Services is assisting the teen as they plan for her next steps as a new Canadian.

Cover photo courtesy of UNHCR Canada, via Alqunun’s official Twitter account

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