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  • Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun arrives in Canada at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

    Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun arrives in Canada at Toronto Pearson International Airport. | Photo: Reuters

Published 12 January 2019

Canada’s decision is likely to exacerbate it already poor relations with Saudi Arabia. The U.N. celebrated the North American country's decision.

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family saying she feared for her life arrived in Canada Saturday morning after being granted asylum in Canada.

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Thai officials confirmed Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun was en route to Toronto.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had asked Canada to take in Alqunun, who grabbed international attention this week after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to her family, which denies any abuse.

Canada’s decision is likely to exacerbate it already poor relations with Saudi Arabia, which last year barred the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh after Ottawa criticized Saudi authorities for detaining women's' activists.

Alqunun arrived in Bangkok Saturday and was initially denied entry, but she soon started posting messages on Twitter from the transit area of Bangkok's airport saying she had "escaped Kuwait" and her life would be in danger if forced to return to Saudi Arabia.

Following a 48-hour stand-off at Bangkok airport, some of it barricaded in a transit lounge hotel room, she was allowed to enter Thailand and was then processed as a refugee by the UNHCR.

The UNHCR welcomed Canada's decision and also acknowledged Thailand had given Alqunun temporary refuge.

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The Saudi woman accused her family of abuse and has refused to meet her father and brother who arrived in Bangkok to try to take her back to Saudi Arabia.

"It was her wish to go to Canada," Thailand's immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters. "She still refuses to meet with her father and brother, and they are going to be traveling back tonight as well ... They are disappointed."

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

Amid increasing domestic political pressure, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month that his government was looking for a way out of a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Riyadh.

Alqunun’s case emerged at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.

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