Immigration

Saudi teen Rahaf al-Qunun accepts offer of asylum from Canada

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Saudi teen Rahaf al-Qunun is flying to Canada to accept the country's offer of asylum.

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled alleged abuse by her family is on her way to a new life in Canada after she was granted asylum.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun boarded a Korean Air flight from Bangkok to Seoul late on Friday night before catching a connecting flight to Canada, Thailand's immigration police chief Surachate Hakparn says.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed the news.

"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 woman's rights around the world and I can confirm that we have accepted the UN's request," Mr Trudeau said.

Australia had been one of the countries weighing offering Ms Qunun asylum.

But late Friday Thailand's immigration police chief said a smiling and cheerful Ms Qunun was bound for Toronto and had left on a flight after 11:00 pm (1600 GMT).

"She chose Canada... Canada said it will accept her," Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters at Bangkok's main airport.

"She is safe now and has good physical and mental health. She is happy."

Canada's ambassador saw Ms Qunun off at the airport.

Earlier, there had been conflicting reports on where she would go.

Ms Qunun had told the Daily Mail Australia on Friday she was happy to "start a new life" in Australia and that she had been provided with an apartment for three months although she didn't know where it would be.

Australian government sources denied the Daily Mail report.

The Australian newspaper, however, reported she was likely to go to Canada after the United Nations High Commission for Refugees withdrew its referral to Australia to take Ms Qunun as a refugee.

Ms Qunun garnered worldwide attention after she barricaded herself in an airport hotel room in Bangkok and began tweeting that her life was in danger if she were forced to return to Saudi Arabia.

Death threats 

Ms Qunun left from the same airport where her quest for asylum began less than a week ago in a swift-moving process that defied most norms.

On Friday afternoon Rahaf posted a final cryptic tweet on her profile saying "I have some good news and some bad news" -- shortly after her account was deactivated in response to death threats she had faced, her friends said.

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'Afraid I’d be killed like Khashoggi': Saudi teen’s desperate plea to Australia
'Afraid I’d be killed like Khashoggi': Saudi teen’s desperate plea to Australia

"Rahaf received death threats and for this reason she closed her Twitter account, please save Rahaf life," tweeted supporter @nourahfa313, who has flanked Rahaf's social media campaign with her own updates on Twitter.

Rahaf's swift use of Twitter saw her amass more than 100,000 followers within a week, highlighting her plight at a time when Saudi Arabia's human rights record is under heavy scrutiny following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year.

Her deployment of social media allowed her to avoid the fate of countless other refugees who are quietly sent back home or languish in Bangkok detention centres.

She refused to see her father who travelled to Thailand and expressed opposition to her resettlement.

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Saudi woman's father remains in Thailand
Saudi woman's father remains in Thailand

Surachate said her father and brother were due to return home on a flight in the early hours of Saturday.

Although her asylum case moved fast the final manoeuvres that led to her flight to Canada remain a mystery.

Australia had dropped strong hints it would accept her after the UN urged the country to do so and it remains unclear why the resettlement location changed.

On Thursday its foreign minister said Canberra was still assessing the request.

Thailand's immigration chief Surachate had earlier told reporters Friday that "two or three" countries were ready to offer her asylum.

The Southeast Asian country is not a signatory to a convention on refugees and asylum seekers must be referred to a third country.

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