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Canada gives asylum to a young Saudi woman fleeing her family

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who managed in a few days to mobilize international opinion in his favor, arrived Saturday, January 12 in Toronto.

Canada has decided to grant asylum to a young Saudi woman, Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who fled her family and sparked international solidarity in less than a week. The decision was released Friday (January 11th) by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose country is at loggerheads with Saudi Arabia over human rights. The 18-year-old arrived Saturday, January 12 in Toronto from Bangkok.

"The case" Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun began on Sunday, January 6, when she was arrested at Bangkok airport from Kuwait, where she had dislocated with her family. Very quickly, she says she wants to escape the psychological and physical abuse of her relatives, but the Thai authorities plan to send her back to her point of departure. She then locks herself in her hotel room at the airport and alerts the international opinion via social networks.

Escape the abuse

She explains that she tried to flee the abuse of her family. "My family is strict and locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair"she declares, saying that she is certain of being imprisoned if she is sent back to her country. "I'm 100% sure they'll kill me right out of a Saudi jail", she adds.

The intervention of human rights NGOs first led Thailand to refrain from sending her back to Kuwait and then let her go. Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who also claims to want to renounce the Muslim religion, was then taken in charge by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations. After several host countries were solicited – including Australia – Canada finally chose to grant him refugee status.

In Thailand, a right of asylum known for its severity

"We granted him asylum," said Friday, January 11 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "We are delighted to do so because Canada is a country that values ​​how important it is to stand up for human rights and women around the world. And I can confirm that we have accepted the request of the UN ".

Canada has been in direct opposition to Saudi Arabia since the summer of 2018. In August, it denounced the arrest of Saudi human rights activists, including Samar Badawi, sister of imprisoned blogger Raef Badawi, whose wife and three children live in Quebec. Riyad fought back by expelling the Canadian ambassador, recalling his ambassador in Ottawa and freezing any new trade or investment with Canada.

The refusal to see his father

Ensaf Haidar, wife of Raef Badaoui, highlighted the role played by Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland in welcoming Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun to Canada. "She's the real heroine who prevented her being sent back from Thailand to Kuwait"she tweeted.

"I would like to thank the people who supported me and saved my life. Sincerely, I had never dreamed of this love and support », tweeted Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun Friday evening. Thai police said that the father and a brother of the young woman had gone to Bangkok, but that she had "Refused to see them".

Saudi Arabia is one of the most restrictive countries in the world for women's rights. In particular, they are subject to the guardianship of a man – father, husband or other – who exercises arbitrary authority over him and takes important decisions in their place. The image of this country was particularly degraded by the murder in early October of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

Between Riyadh and Washington, the tone hardens

Jean-Christophe Ploquin

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