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Canada takes in Saudi teen asylum seeker

AFP  |  Ottawa 

announced Friday that was taking in an 18-year-old Saudi asylum seeker who fled her family and harnessed the power of to stave off deportation from

was already en route to late Friday when the made the surprise announcement, after officials had previously given heavy hints she was bound for

"has been unequivocal that we'll stand up for human rights and women's rights around the world," said. "When the made a request of us that we grant al-Qunun's asylum, we accepted."

The move is sure to further strain Canadian relations with the kingdom that went sideways last August over Ottawa's rights criticism of Saudi Arabia, prompting to expel the Canadian and sever all trade and investment ties in protest.

also sparked fury in by demanding the "immediate release" of jailed rights campaigners, including Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi, whose family lives in

Qunun's attempt to flee the ultra-conservative kingdom was embraced by rights groups as a beacon of defiance against repression.

Thai authorities initially threatened to deport her after she arrived in from last weekend.

But armed with a and hastily opened account, she forced a U-turn from Thai immigration police who handed her into the care of the UN's refugee agency as the #SaveRahaf hashtag bounced across the world.

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

Rahaf first said she was aiming for where officials had suggested they would give serious consideration to her claim for asylum, which was endorsed as legitimate by the UNHCR on Wednesday.

But late Friday Thailand's said a smiling and cheerful Rahaf was bound for and had left on a flight after 11:00 pm (local time).

"She chose Canada... Canada said it will accept her," Thai told reporters at Bangkok's main airport. "She is safe now and has good physical and mental health. She is happy."


Rahaf left from the same airport where her quest for asylum began less than a week ago in a swift-moving process that defied most norms.

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

"Rahaf received death threats and for this reason she closed her account, please save Rahaf life," tweeted supporter @nourahfa313, who has flanked Rahaf's campaign with her own updates on Twitter.

Rahaf's swift use of Twitter saw her amass more than 100,000 followers within a week, highlighting her plight at a time when Saudi Arabia's human rights record is under heavy scrutiny following the murder of last year. Her deployment of allowed her to avoid the fate of countless other refugees who are quietly sent back home or languish in detention centres. She refused to see her father who travelled to and expressed opposition to her resettlement. Surachate said her father and brother were due to return home on a flight in the early hours of Saturday. Although her asylum case moved fast the final manoeuvres that led to her flight to Canada remain a mystery. had dropped strong hints it would accept her after the UN urged the country to do so and it remains unclear why the resettlement location changed. On Thursday its said was still assessing the request. Thailand's Surachate had earlier told reporters Friday that "two or three" countries were ready to offer her asylum. The Southeast Asian country is not a signatory to a convention on refugees and asylum seekers must be referred to a third country.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, January 12 2019. 01:10 IST
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