Teen refugee fleeing Saudi Arabia arrives in Toronto

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, landed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on Saturday morning

Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, centre, stands with Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, right, as she arrives at Toronto Pearson International Airport, on Saturday, January 12, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

A Saudi teen described as a “brave new Canadian” by one of the federal government’s senior ministers has landed in Toronto after fleeing her allegedly abusive family.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, landed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on Saturday morning aboard a flight from Seoul, South Korea, a day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his government would accept her as a refugee.

READ MORE: Trudeau says Canada has granted asylum to Saudi woman in Bangkok

Alqunun, wearing a hoodie emblazened with the word Canada, appeared briefly to reporters at the airport flanked by Foreign Affairs Minsiter Chrystia Freeland, who had her arm wrapped around the teen.

Freeland said the teen would not be offering any comments before heading to her “new home.”

“Rahaf wanted Canadians to see that she’s arrived,” Freeland said. “She’s a very brave young woman who’s been through a lot.”

The young woman fled her family while visiting Kuwait and flew to Bangkok, where she barricaded herself in an airport hotel and launched a Twitter campaign that drew global attention to her case.

Alqunun said her father physically abused her and tried to force her into an arranged marriage.

Her father, who arrived in Bangkok not long before she left, has denied those allegations.

“I’m the girl who ran away to Thailand. I’m now in real danger because the Saudi Embassy is trying to force me to return,” said an English translation of one of her first posts to Twitter. Alqunun also wrote that she was afraid and that her family would kill her if she were returned home.

The Twitter hashtag #SaveRahaf ensued, and a photograph of her behind a door barricaded with a mattress was seen around the world.

Trudeau announced Friday that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees asked Canada to take Alqunun as a refugee, and Canada agreed.

“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, to stand up for women’s rights around the world,” Trudeau said.

But the move to accept Alqunun could serve to heighten tensions between Canada and Saudi Arabia.

In August, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman expelled Canada’s ambassador and withdrew his own envoy after Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland used Twitter to call for the release of women’s rights activists who had been arrested in the country.

The Saudis also sold Canadian investments and recalled their students from universities in Canada.

But Trudeau appeared unfazed by the possibility that the move could have ill effects, repeating that Canada stands up for human rights regardless of diplomatic consequences.

“This is part of a long tradition of Canada engaging constructively and positively in the world and working with our partners, allies and with the United Nations. And when the United Nations made a request of us that we grant Ms. Alqunun asylum, we accepted,” he said.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Tough year ahead for the aluminium industry

U.S. market is still Canada’s most important

Kitselas receive $1.2M boost for apprenticeship development program, open to Tsimshian and Haisla Nations

Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education announces $7.5M for six Indigenous training programs

PHOTOS: Heavy snowfall breaks window, causing avalanche into Northern Sentinel office

It was a chaotic start to the week for the Kitimat Northern Sentinel

B.C. premier talks forestry, service needs with handful of northern mayors in Prince George

Prince George meeting completes premier’s tour of Kitimat, Terrace, Fort St. James and Quesnel

Indigenous LNG supporters chide human rights advocates over pipeline comments

Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with 20 elected First Nation councils along the pipeline’s 670-kilometre path

VIDEO: Mass coronavirus quarantines seen in China won’t happen in Canada, authorities say

‘If a case comes here, and it is probably … it will still be business as normal’

Province’s oldest practising lawyer shares advice at her 100th birthday party

Firefighters bring Constance Isherwood a cake with 100 birthday candles

Vernon woman suing McDonald’s for spilled coffee

Woman seeking nearly $10K, says employee failed to put lid on properly

Diners’ health tax not catching on in B.C., restaurant group says

Small businesses look for options to cover employer health tax

B.C. comic wins judgment after club owner slaps cellphone out of his hands

Incident happened last summer when Garrett Clark was performing in Abbotsford

Mayors call for ‘calmness’ as highway rockslide cuts Tofino, Ucluelet off from supplies

Ministry of transportation expects to open road for “essential travel only” from noon-8 p.m. Friday.

Owner surrenders dog suffering from days-old gunshot wound to B.C. SPCA

The dog was also found to be emaciated and suffering from a flea infestation

B.C. man dies after police called for ‘firearms injury’ in rural Alberta

Victim is 30-year-old Greater Victoria man, say police

Most Read