6 June 2024

Runaway Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun left Thailand for Canada shortly before midnight on Friday, ending her weeklong bid for asylum in a third country which put her in international spotlight.

Her departure for Canada coincided with a surprise announcement by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday that Canada was taking the Saudi asylum seeker.

“Canada has been unequivocal that we’ll stand up for human rights and women’s rights around the world.  When the United Nations made a request of us that we grant al-Qunan asylum, we accepted,” Trudeau was quoted to have said by AFP.

AFP said the move to grant asylum to Rahaf might further strain Canadian relations with Saudi Arabia that went sideways last August over Ottawa’s rights criticism of the kingdom, prompting Riyadh to expel the Canadian ambassador and sever all trade and investment ties in protest.

Canada had already sparked fury in Riyadh by demanding the immediate release of jailed rights campaigners, including Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi, whose family lives in Canada.

Immigration chief Pol Lt-Gen Surachate Hakparn who was at the Suvarnabhumi international airport Friday night to send off the teenager told the media that she chose Canada and Canada decided to accept her.

Rahaf earlier said she would like to seek asylum in Australia, but her case was still pending consideration by Canberra which is yet to give the final yes.