Saudi Teen Who Escaped Abusive Family With Help From Social Media Granted Asylum In Canada

A Saudi teen is on her way to Canada after escaping her abusive family, CNN is reporting. Eighteen-year-old Rahaf Al-Qunun garnered attention when she pleaded for help on social media. Qunun flew to Thailand from Kuwait due to fear her family would kill her for denouncing Islam. Her plan was to continue on to Australia, but Thai immigration officials wanted to deport her back to the Middle East. Qunun barricaded herself in a hotel room in a Bangkok airport on Sunday, January 6, where she proceeded to create accounts on Twitter and Periscope to alert others that she was in danger.

After users began to flood Twitter with supportive messages and a campaign was formed to come to Qunun’s aid, Thai authorities allowed Qunun access to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and did not deport her to Kuwait. Saudi chargé d’affaires Abdalelah Mohammed A. al-Shuaibi told Thai officials through a translator, “We wish they had confiscated her phone instead of her passport.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Friday, January 11, that Qunun would be granted asylum in Canada after United Nations officials requested it on her behalf. The teen will now head to Toronto with a stopover in Seoul. Qunun is reportedly “safe and fine” but has been “receiving a lot of death threats. She will be back on Twitter but for now she’s apparently having a short break.”

Unfortunately, asylum is hard to obtain for many refugees. In 2017, the UNHCR found that less than 1 percent of registered refugees globally were resettled that year. After applying for asylum, refugees on average wait anywhere from nine months to several years to receive an answer. Cases are typically assessed by urgency, with the most vulnerable refugees being made priority. Fortunately, Qunun’s social media campaign helped her find a new home.

Earlier reports stated that she would be relocating to Australia, but this was proven false. Australia’s Department of Home Affairs said Wednesday that they would look at Qunun’s case “in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals.” Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton added that she would receive no “special treatment.”

“Nobody wants to see a young girl in distress and she has obviously now found a safe haven in Thailand,” Dutton was quoted as saying.

Global Affairs Canada spokesman Stefano Maron, however, says that his government is invested in Qunun’s situation.

“We are in close contact with partners about her situation,” Maron said. “Canada will always stand up for human rights, very much including women’s rights.”

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