World

Saudi teen who fled family welcomed as ‘brave new Canadian’ in Toronto

TORONTO An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family this week saying she feared for her life arrived in Toronto's international airport on Saturday after being granted asylum in Canada, where Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland welcomed her as a brave new Canadian.

Ms Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun grabbed international attention this week after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to her family, which denies any abuse.

Ms Qunun refused to meet her father and brother, who arrived in Bangkok to try to take her back to Saudi Arabia.

She arrived at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on Saturday morning, wearing a hoodie emblazoned with the word Canada in red, and a blue cap with the logo of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has granted her refugee status.

In her last tweet before leaving for Toronto, Ms Qunun said "I did it" and posted pictures from inside an airplane.

Ms Freeland, who received Qunun at the airport, told reporters that Ms Qunun is "a very brave new Canadian".

"Rahaf wanted Canadians to see that she has arrived at her new home," she told reporters.

"But she had a very long and tiring journey and so would prefer not to take questions today. And she is now going to go to her new home."

A smiling Qunun waved to reporters as she walked out into the international arrivals area. After a brief appearance, she was taken back into the airport terminal.

Canada's decision to grant asylum to Ms Qunun comes when relations between Ottawa and Riyadh have been tense.

Canada demanded the release of jailed rights activists last year, infuriating Saudi Arabia, who retaliated by freezing new trade with Ottawa.

Ms Qunun, who had initially intended to seek asylum in Australia, chose Canada instead because Australia took too long assessing whether to grant her asylum.- REUTERS

WORLD