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  • After taking her story to social media, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees granted Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun refugee status.

    After taking her story to social media, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees granted Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun refugee status. | Photo: Reuters

Published 15 January 2019

"I had no say in all this. Today I proudly say I am capable of making all those decisions,” the Saudi woman said.

The Saudi refugee, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, is pledging to support abused women around the world, the woman said during a press conference in Toronto Tuesday.

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“Today and for years to come, I will work in support of freedom for women around the world – the same freedom I experienced on the first day I arrived in Canada,” said Mohammed, who has chosen to forego her surname of Alqunun.

Qunun grabbed international attention last week after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to her family, which denies abusing her. Qunun refused to meet her father and brother, who arrived in Bangkok to try to take her back to Saudi Arabia.

"During this time, I was thinking about what kind of goodbye messages I would write, because I was not going to allow them to take me. I was prepared to end my life before they kidnapped me," the girl said.

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees granted her refugee status, and Canada agreed to take her in.

Mohammed told reporters, “I was not treated respectfully by my family and I was not allowed to be myself and who I want to be...to be independent, travel, make my own decisions on education, a career, or who, and when I should marry.

"I had no say in all this. Today I proudly say I am capable of making all those decisions,” the Saudi woman said, adding that she felt very safe in Canada “a country that respects human rights.”

The case has drawn global attention to Saudi Arabia's strict social rules for women, including a requirement that women have a male guardian’s permission to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told the media, "I believe in lighting a single candle, and where we can save a single person, where we can save a single woman, that is a good thing to do."

However, critics have suggested the country’s precarious relationship with Saudi Arabia may be the motivation behind her sudden repatriation.

Mehrunnisa Ali, a professor at the Ryerson University, said, “Canada and Saudi Arabia are in a political battle currently, so because this woman is Saudi, my sense is that there was some political motive in promoting the 'rescuing' of a Saudi girl.

"Of course, the rescuing of oppressed people is a Western narrative in many different ways, but the securing of a Saudi woman being oppressed by her family and her country sharpens this narrative in ways that may not have been possible otherwise," the professor said.


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