Saudi refugee welcomed to Canada by its foreign minister


An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family this week saying she feared for her life has arrived in Toronto after Canada granted 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, and I can confirm that we have accepted the UN's request", Trudeau said.

Thailand's immigration police chief, Surachate Hakparn, told reporters the United Nations was accelerating the case, though he gave no indication of when the process would be complete.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun captured global attention when she posted on social media and pleaded with fellow passengers to hear her case for asylum.

"She wanted Canadians to see that she's here, that she's well and she's very very happy to be in her new home, although she did comment to me about the cold", Freeland told reporters at Toronto airport.

Earlier, Thai police said several countries including Canada and Australia were in talks with the United Nations refugee agency on accepting Ms al-Qunun, and that the United Nations was accelerating the case.

Thailand's immigration police chief says a Saudi woman who fled alleged abuse by her family will leave Bangkok for Canada.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland greeted Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, after she landed in Toronto, wearing a blue ball cap and a gray hoodie emblazoned in red with the word "CANADA".

Ms Qunun's attempt to flee the ultra-conservative kingdom was embraced by rights groups as a beacon of defiance against repression.

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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.

"It was a pleasure for me this morning to welcome her to her new home", Freeland said. After a brief appearance, she was taken back into the airport terminal.

A Korean Air flight carrying Qunun left Bangkok for Seoul on Friday night at 11:37 p.m. local time (1637 GMT), an airport official told Reuters. Riyadh expelled Canada's ambassador past year and recalled its own top diplomat in Ottawa after Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland criticized the jailing of two Saudi women activists. "Truly I have never dreamed of this love and support". She also said she had been beaten, that her male relatives had threatened to kill her and that she was once kept in her room for a month for cutting her hair.

Rahaf's swift use of Twitter saw her amass more than 100,000 followers within a week, highlighting her plight and allowing her to avoid the fate of countless other refugees who are quietly sent back home or languish in Bangkok detention centres.

Hakparn, the Thai immigration official, said Qunun had continued to refuse to meet with her father and brother before leaving Thailand.

Surachate said her father - whose name has not been released - denied physically abusing Alqunun or trying to force her into an arranged marriage, which were among the reasons she gave for her flight.

The UNHCR welcomed Canada's decision and also acknowledged Thailand had given Qunun temporary refuge.

Canada's move is sure to further strain its relations with the Arab kingdom.