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

Just Posted

Oak Bay doctor the pulse of Island’s heart failure clinic

Dr. Elizabeth Swiggum has headed heart clinic for past 14 years

PHOTOS: A summer morning in Oak Bay

A walkabout at Oak Bay Marina

Annual study shows high satisfaction with B.C. post-secondary schools

Study also reveals men tend to dominate higher paying jobs in the trades

Pavement work to close Fort Rodd Hill

Historic site scheduled to be closed to public Sept. 3 to 6

Cross-examination begins for Oak Bay dad accused of killing daughters

Andrew Berry is charged in the deaths of six-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Aubrey in 2017

B.C. sockeye returns drop as official calls 2019 ‘extremely challenging’

Federal government says officials are seeing the same thing off Alaska and Washington state

Expanded support to help B.C. youth from care attend university still falling short

Inadequate support, limited awareness and eligibility restrictions some of the existing challenges

Ethnic media aim to help maintain boost in voting by new Canadians

Statistics Canada says new Canadians made up about one-fifth of the voting population in 2016

Dog attacked by river otters, Penticton owner says

Marie Fletcher says her dog was pulled underwater by four river otters in the Penticton Channel

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of Aug. 23

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Should there be a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers?

We’ve all heard them, and most likely cursed them under our breath.… Continue reading

Wife charged in husband’s death in Sechelt

Karin Fischer has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of her husband, Max

B.C. Hydro applies for rare cut in electricity rates next year

Province wrote off $1.1 billion debt to help reverse rate increase

Most Read