TORONTO (AP) — Tired but smiling, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who said she feared death if deported back home arrived on Saturday in Canada, which offered her asylum in a case that attracted global attention after she mounted a social media campaign.
“This is Rahaf Alqunun, a very brave new Canadian,” Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said arm-in-arm with the Saudi woman in Toronto’s airport.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun smiled broadly as she exited an airport arrival door sporting a Canada zipper hoodie and a United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees hat, capping a dramatic week that saw her flee her family while visiting Kuwait and before flying to Bangkok. Once there, she barricaded herself in an airport hotel to avoid deportation and tweeted about her situation.
Freeland said Alqunun preferred not to take questions on Saturday.
“She is obviously very tired after a long journey and she preferred to go and get settled,” Freeland said.
“But it was Rahaf’s choice to come out and say hello to Canadians. She wanted Canadians to see that she’s here, that she’s well and that she’s very happy to be in her new home.”
After arriving she was off to get winter clothes, said Executive Director of COSTI Immigrant Services Mario Calla which is helping her settle in temporary housing and applying for a health card.
Calla said Alqunun has friends in Toronto whom she would be meeting up with this weekend.
“She did comment to me about the cold,” Freeland said.
“It does get warmer,” Freeland said she told her. Alqunun flew to Toronto via Seoul, South Korea, according to Thai immigration Police Chief Surachate Hakparn.
Alqunun tweeted two pictures from her plane seat — one with what appears to be a drink and her passport and another holding her passport while on the plane with the hashtag “I did it” and the emojis showing a plane and hearts.
Canada’s decision to grant her asylum could further upset the country’s relations with Saudi Arabia.
In August, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador to the kingdom and withdrew its own ambassador after Canada’s Foreign Ministry tweeted support for women’s right activists who had been arrested.
The Saudis also sold Canadian investments and ordered their citizens studying in Canada to leave.
Freeland avoided an answer when asked what Alqunun’s case would mean to Saudi-Canadian relations.
There was no immediate Saudi government reaction, nor any mention of her arrival in state media. But a Saudi government-sanctioned body, the National Society for Human Rights, said it deplores the methods used by some foreign officials and organisations to “incite” some young Saudi females to disobey their families and leave the country.