'I felt free': Saudi refugee on first arriving in Canada
The Saudi teen who was granted asylum after fleeing her family says she felt “born again” when she was greeted by Canada’s Foreign Affairs minister at Toronto Pearson International Airport.
“I felt free and it was like I was born again,” said 18-year-old Saudi refugee Rahaf Mohammed, speaking in Arabic to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “It was something amazing and I felt overjoyed. There was a lot of love and hospitality, especially when the minister welcomed me and told me I was in a safe country and had all my rights.”
Mohammed is expected to make a public statement to Canadians on Tuesday. The televised airport welcome has faced some scrutiny since Saturday, some dubbing it a “political photo-op.” For former ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dennis Horak, the moment was an unhelpful “speed bump” in mending relations between the countries.
“It was too big a political opportunity to pass up,” he said Monday on CTV’s Power Play. “I don’t think it was helpful in terms of trying to rebuild the relationship, but it is what it is.”
Horak was ousted as ambassador last summer after a tweet by Global Affairs Canada condemning the arrests of civil rights activists incensed Saudi Arabia to withdraw investment in Canada, halt Saudi-owned flights to the country and advise post-secondary students to come home. He said that while Canada was right in taking in Mohammed, the government should be wary of further public displays.
“Hopefully we won’t (see more) in the future,” he said. “If that’s the case, I think then whatever sort of speed bump that greeting at the airport created can probably be mitigated.”
While some critics have called the greeting “overkill,” other pundits said that the alleged crimes of the Saudi government outweigh any ramifications of a photo-op.
“You know what’s distasteful? Killing a journalist, which is the allegations against this country and the crown prince,” Greg MacEachern, senior vice-president of Proof Strategies, said on CTV’s Power Play. “I’m not sure that the feelings of the ruler of Saudi Arabia would be the top of my concern if I was the minister of foreign affairs.”
The Saudi government has been silent on the 18-year-old’s arrival in Canada, but Horak says their silence may be a message of sorts. “They would like this to sort of perhaps drift off into the background,” he said. “They may raise it with us privately or it may become an issue as we try and go forward rebuilding the relationships.”