Saudi teen who fled family welcomed as 'brave new Canadian' in Toronto

Rahaf Mohammed al Qunun shakes hands with Immigration Bureau chief Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn. The 18-year-old Saudi left for Canada just before midnight on Friday

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Several countries including Canada and Australia are in talks with the United Nations refugee agency to accept a Saudi asylum-seeker who fled alleged abuse from her family, Thai police said Friday. She had requested for a meeting with representatives of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in order to seek asylum as she was fleeing her abusive family.

Canadian diplomats in the Thai capital were immediately seized with Alqunun's plight, and though she originally said she wanted to go to Australia, it became clear in the past week that Canada represented her quickest path to freedom.

The saga of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun grabbed worldwide attention this week after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to her family, which denies any abuse.

Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun is seen before departing from Thailand at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand January 11, 2019.

The Canada-Saudi Arabia relations have soured after a diplomatic row which was sparked by the Canadian government's call for the immediate release of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi and his sister Samar via Twitter on August 5, 2018.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed his country had granted her asylum.

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Ms Qunun alleged that she was abused by her family - who deny the allegations - and rights groups also said she had renounced Islam, risking prosecution in Saudi Arabia.

Ms.al-Qunun's case has highlighted the cause of women's rights in Saudi Arabia.

On Friday afternoon Qunun posted a cryptic tweet on her profile saying "I have some good news and some bad news" - shortly afterward, her account was deactivated in response to death threats she had faced, her friends said.

Before boarding her flight to Toronto, the young woman had tweeted, "I would like to thank you people for supporting me and saving my life".

Ms Qunun took a Korean Air flight from Bangkok to Seoul on Friday and then a connecting flight to Toronto. Relations between Ottawa and Riyadh have been tense after Canada demanded the immediate release of jailed rights activists previous year, infuriating Saudi Arabia who retaliated by freezing new trade with Ottawa.

In the interview Ms al-Qunun responded to claims she had manipulated social media to be granted asylum.

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The move to accept Alqunun could serve to heighten tensions between Canada and Saudi Arabia. "Truly I have never dreamed of this love and support". "She still refuses to meet with her father and brother, and they are going to be travelling back tonight as well".

Surachate said her father - whose name has not been released - denied physically abusing Alqunun or trying to force her into an arranged marriage, which were among the reasons she gave for her flight.

"They will kill me", she said.

Several women have been forced to return to Saudi Arabia in recent years, human right activists say, adding that many similar cases had gone unreported.

"She chose Canada. It's her personal decision", General Surachate told The Associated Press.

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