Saudi teen Rahaf Alqunun due to arrive in Canada Thailand for asylum

Turkey has arrested two suspects who confessed to spying on Arab nationals for the United Arab Emirates, and is investigating whether the arrival in Turkey of one of them was related to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a senior Turkish official said on Friday. One of the two men arrived in Turkey in October 2018, days after Khashoggi was murdered inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, the official said, adding the other had arrived later to help his colleague with the workload. “We are investigating whether the primary individual’s arrival in Turkey was related to the Jamal Khashoggi murder,” said the official, adding the person had been monitored for six months before the arrests in Istanbul on Monday. “It is possible that there was an attempt to collect information about Arabs, including political dissidents, living in Turkey.”

The 18-year-old left Bangkok airport for Canada, officials confirmed, after her ordeal went viral on social media.

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family saying she feared for her life has been granted asylum in Canada, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday, as Thai officials confirmed the teen was en route to Toronto.

Rahaf Alqunun's flight comes as Riyadh is facing intense scrutiny over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi [AP]
Rahaf Alqunun’s flight comes as Riyadh is facing intense scrutiny over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi [AP]

MORE ON CANADA

|AIWA! NO!|An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family saying she feared for her life, is due to arrive in Canada on Saturday, after being granted asylum in the North American country.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday that Canada had accepted a request from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to take in Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, who grabbed international attention earlier this week after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to her family, which denies any abuse.

“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, and I can confirm that we have accepted the UN’s request,” Trudeau told reporters.

The decision is likely to exacerbate Canada’s already poor relations with Saudi Arabia, which last year barred the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh after Ottawa criticised Saudi authorities for detaining female activists.

Alqunun had arrived in Bangkok on January 5 and was initially denied entry, but she soon started posting messages on Twitter from the transit area of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport saying she had “escaped Kuwait” and her life would be in danger if forced to return to Saudi Arabia.

Following a 48-hour standoff at Bangkok airport, some of it barricaded in a transit lounge hotel room, she was allowed to enter Thailand and was then processed as a refugee by the UNHCR.

The UNHCR welcomed Canada’s decision and also acknowledged Thailand had given Alqunun a temporary refuge.READ MORE

Canada grants asylum to Saudi teenager Rahaf Alqunun

“Ms Alqunun’s plight has captured the world’s attention over the past few days, providing a glimpse into the precarious situation of millions of refugees worldwide,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement.

Alqunun has accused her family of abuse and has refused to meet her father and brother who arrived in Bangkok to take her back to Saudi Arabia.

“It was her wish to go to Canada,” Thailand’s immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters. “She still refuses to meet with her father and brother, and they are going to be travelling back tonight as well … They are disappointed.”

Her case has drawn global attention to Saudi Arabia’s strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male “guardian” to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

A Korean Air flight carrying Alqunun left Bangkok for Seoul on Friday night at 11:37pm local time (16:37 GMT), an airport official told Reuters news agency.

OPINION

Putting the spat between Saudi Arabia and Canada in context

Bill Law

by Bill Law

Alqunun was expected to board a connecting flight to Toronto from Seoul’s Incheon airport before arriving in Canada on Saturday morning.

Trudeau brushed off a question as to whether Canada’s move might make it harder to repair ties with Saudi Arabia.

“Canada has been unequivocal that we will always stand up for human rights and women’s rights around the world,” he said.

Amid increasing domestic political pressure, Trudeau said last month that his Liberal government was looking for a way out of a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Riyadh.

Alqunun’s flight has emerged at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.

Canada has repeatedly said Khashoggi’s murder was unacceptable and has demanded a full explanation.

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