Saudi woman to leave Thailand for Canada, immigration chief says

Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al Qunun is escorted by a Thai Immigration Chief Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees officials at Suvarnabhumi international airport in Bangkok on Monday

Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed al Qunun is escorted by a Thai Immigration Chief Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees officials at Suvarnabhumi international airport in Bangkok on Monday

Human Rights Watch Australia has criticised the government's handing of a Saudi teenager's bid for asylum, after the 18-year-old was granted safe haven in Canada.

The Saudi teen has been accepted as a refugee by Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday.

A Saudi asylum seeker who fled alleged abuse from her family will leave Thailand for Canada on Friday night, according to a Thai immigration police chief.

Australia's Education Minister Dan Tehan said Saturday that Australia had moved quickly to process her case but Canada chose to take her in.

Qunun has accused her family of abuse, a charge they deny.

Ms Qunun took a Korean Air flight from Bangkok to Seoul on Friday and then a connecting flight to Toronto.

The move could further upset Saudi-Canada relations.

Her case has drawn attention to Saudi Arabia's strict societal rules, including one that obliges women to have the permission of a male guardian to travel.

"We wish her all the best in Canada, but Mr Coleman needs to explain why Australia was taking so long to process her case".

The decision to give haven to Alqunun capped a almost week-long drama that highlighted the power of social media to call attention to her case and reverse initial plans by Thai officials to deport her back to Kuwait, where she fled her family while on holiday. She later told reporters that Australia was assessing Al-Qunun's request for resettlement.

If she had made it to Australia, she would have been just one of the thousands of would-be refugees who turn up at Australian ports, airports, and borders who face lengthy waits, albeit in relative safety. The UNHCR granted her refugee status, and Australia's Department of Home Affairs told NPR that Australia would "consider this referral [for refugee resettlement] in the usual way, as it does with all UNHCR referrals".

Trudeau said that Canada was "pleased" to grant Alqunun asylum because "Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights and to stand up for women's rights around the world".

Al-Qunun left Thailand en route to Canada on Friday. She quickly amassed tens of thousands of followers with a #SaveRahaf hashtag that went viral and saw her delivered into the hands of the United Nations refugee agency in lightning speed compared to other asylum cases.

"Ms.al-Qunun'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.

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

Several women had been forced to return home in recent years, they say, adding that many similar cases had gone unreported.

On Thursday, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne visited senior Thai officials in Bangkok to also raise concerns about Hakeem al-Araibi, a 25-year-old former member of Bahrain's national soccer team, detained in Thailand.

"It's great news that Rahaf will get freedom and safety", McKim said.

"I survived from death", she said, reflecting that since the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Instabul she has feared for her own life.

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