Canada open to receiving Saudi woman fleeing family, officials confirm
Canada has signalled it would be open to receiving a Saudi woman who barricaded herself inside a Bangkok hotel room, government officials have confirmed to CTV News.
Canadian authorities, in behind-the-scenes conversations, have indicated they would be open to taking in Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who fled her family and renounced Islam, which is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.
After the 18-year-old refused to board a flight from the Thai capital to Kuwait on Monday, she barricaded herself inside an airport hotel room.
The United Nation’s refugee agency has declared the teenager is a legitimate refugee.
"I was told by UNHCR that there are several countries (offering asylum) but we can't be rushed,” Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, head of Thai Immigration Police, told reporters at a press conference.
“It will take at least a couple of days. We have to allow UNHCR to follow through with their procedures."
The teen has previously asked Canada for help via her Twitter account.
Australia is also considering resettling the woman, who arrived in Bangkok on a flight from Kuwait on Saturday, and planned to continue to Australia, where she held a tourist visa.
CTV National News correspondent Daniele Hamamdjian said al-Qunun used a family holiday to Kuwait to escape.
“According to sources in Ottawa, it appears Canada has had quiet conversations where it too has signalled that it would be willing to take her in,” Hamamdjian told CTV News Channel.
“This case has moved quite rapidly, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she would be travelling to this third country, Canada or other in the next few days.”
Hamamdjian explained that al-Qunun used the fact that she could travel unaccompanied in Kuwait to make her escape.
“She had managed to buy herself a plane ticket to Bangkok and upon arrival there a Saudi diplomat, who no doubt had been tipped off by her family, was there waiting for her, took her passport. Her passport was later handed back to her,” she said.
When told by Thai authorities that she would be put on a flight back to Kuwait, the teenager decided to barricade herself inside her room.
“She opened her Twitter, explained what was happening, put a video on Twitter and within hours she had 45,000 followers,” Hamamdjian told CTV News Channel.
“That specific number was raised by the Saudi charge d’affaire in Bangkok who met with Thai authorities and, on camera, said that it was her cell phone that should have been confiscated, not her passport, because it’s thanks to that cell phone that she is now a legitimate refugee under the care of the UNHCR.”
Al-Qunun's father has denied physically abusing her or trying to force her into an arranged marriage. Those claims were among the reasons she gave for fleeing, Thailand's Immigration Police chief said after meeting him Wednesday.
The father, whose name was not released and who was not seen by reporters, said he wants his daughter back but respects her decision, police Maj. Gen. Hakparn said.