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Trudeau notches a win as Canada accepts Saudi refugee

AFP  |  Montreal 

notched himself a political win ahead of Canadian legislative elections by granting asylum to the teenage Saudi girl fleeing her parents, experts here say.

sent to greet 18-year-old as the young woman landed in on Saturday.

As Freeland clutched Qunun's arm in the presence of reporters from across the globe she reminded everyone that human rights were Canada's priorities under - especially the rights of women in countries like

By granting Qunun asylum, was "standing up for human rights around the world, and we believe very strongly that women's rights are human rights," Freeland said.

Accepting the Saudi teen was "very good on a humanitarian level," said Ferry de Kerckhove, a Canadian former and current at the University of Ottawa, "but it's also a very good move for the and for " "You had to see Ms. Freeland's beaming smile when she greeted the young woman," he told AFP.

"We felt they had scored one more point" against those "awful Saudis" who murdered dissident Jamal Khashoggi, he said.

Qunun's attempt to flee was embraced by rights groups as a beacon of defiance against repression.

The Saudi teen captured the world's attention with a trail of posts that ignited a #SaveRahaf movement as she fled what she said was physical and psychological abuse from her family in ultra-conservative

Rights groups also said she had renounced Islam, risking prosecution in her homeland. Qunun's family has denied the abuse allegations.

The publicity thwarted an attempt to deport the teen to Saudi Arabia after she arrived in on a flight from Thai authorities instead turning her over to the UN's refugee agency.

On Friday Trudeau made the surprise announcement that would grant her asylum.

"At a time when Saudi Arabia's global image is tarnished by assassination of critics, I cannot imagine that there was not mirth in the shared by the well-meant genuine sense of wanting to protect a refugee," said law

But the move is certain to further strain Canada's relations with the kingdom. Ties soured in August 2018 over Ottawa's criticism of human rights in Saudi Arabia, prompting to expel Canada's and sever all trade and investment ties in protest.

Canada 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

Canada is "on the right side of history" by granting Qunun asylum, said

"We are demonstrating our moral leadership on the issue of gender equality," she wrote in a newspaper opinion piece.

The diplomatic risks, she says, are minimal.

"Our bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia is already at an all-time low, so there may be no lower place to go," she said.

By harnessing the power of to garner global attention, Qunun "has opened a that only Saudi Arabia can close," Momani wrote.

As of early Monday Saudi authorities had no official reaction on the affair.

De Kerckhove predicted that the Saudis will stay "rather quiet." "My only concern," he said, "is that the Saudis will take revenge" on jailed blogger Badawi.

However he hoped that the global outcry following the murder of Jamal

Khashoggi case "will prevent them" from such action.

Attaran told AFP that the Saudis "are learning the stupidity of their incendiary foreign policy." When in mid-2018 "they burned their political, educational and financial linkages with Canada, they left no leverage over which to rebuke Canada meaningfully." Canada holds legislative elections in October in which Trudeau will seek a second term in office.

Even though he leads in the polls, Trudeau faces an emboldened opposition and pushback on issues such as immigration, a carbon tax and environmental protection.

Also unresolved: the Canadian dollar 15 billion sales contract with Saudi Arabia for light-armored vehicles, signed by the previous of

Political opponents and human rights activists have slammed Trudeau for failing to end the contract.

A cancellation however would come at a steep price: at least Canadian dollar 1 billion in penalties, and a loss of jobs in province where the vehicles are built.

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

First Published: Mon, January 14 2019. 16:15 IST