Saudi woman to leave Thailand for Canada, immigration chief says

In this Monday Jan. 7 2019 image made from video released by Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun  Human Rights Watch Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun views her mobile phone as she sits barricaded in a hotel room at an international airport in Bangkok Thailand. Alqunun says

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun Human Rights Watch

Thai officials said Friday evening that 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun is en route to Toronto via Seoul, South Korea. No other details were immediately offered.

The Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, confirmed Qunun was granted asylum following a request from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Rahaf Mohammed al-Ms Qunun was stopped by authorities at Bangkok's main airport as she arrived on a flight from Kuwait on the weekend after running away from her family, who she says subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

But al-Qunun's savvy use of Twitter throughout her ordeal at Bangkok airport, including tweeting videos of her barricading herself in a hotel room, galvanised a global campaign and calls for her to be granted asylum.

On Wednesday, Thai officials had allowed her to assume temporary protection of United Nations officials.

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.

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

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Alqunun's successful gambit comes amid renewed attention on Saudi Arabia's treatment of women.

"Following the UNHCR referrals, Australia is now going through the steps we are required to do in relation to the assessment process and then when that is complete an announcement will be made", Ms. Payne said in Bangkok, after arriving on a visit arranged before sought asylum.

In August, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada's ambassador to the kingdom and withdrew its own ambassador in a row over the arrests of women's right activists.

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said Ms Qunun had renounced Islam, which puts her at "serious risk" of prosecution in Saudi Arabia.

Thai immigration officials had initially said she should return to Kuwait, where her family were waiting.

Sophie McNeill, a reporter with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who has had exclusive access to al-Qunun, said Friday that al-Qunun shut down her Twitter account, but is "safe and fine".

Earlier, on Friday Thai authorities said she was set to board a flight to Canada instead.

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'Rahaf received death threats and for this reason she closed her Twitter account, please save Rahaf life, ' @nourahfa313 wrote.

Ms. Payne's visit has also thrown a spotlight on another refugee case, involving Bahrain footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, who has refugee status in Australia but was arrested at Bangkok airport a year ago after arriving for his honeymoon.

Alqunun had previously said on Twitter that she wishes to seek refuge in Australia. For example, activists started a Facebook campaign in 2011 called "Women2Drive" to fight a decades-old ban on women driving cars in Saudi Arabia, which was lifted a year ago.

Thailand, which is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, has a mixed history of handling asylum seekers.

"At the time of the UNHCR's referral to Canada on January 11, the assessment of Ms Al-Qunun's case by Australian officials was progressing".

"The BBC should be condemning Islamic blasphemy laws and defending human rights and women's rights".

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