Toronto: A young Saudi woman who caused a sensation by defying her family and seeking asylum abroad was welcomed with open arms in Toronto Saturday at the end of a dramatic but exhausting international odyssey.
Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland greeted Rahaf Mohammed Al Qunun after she landed in Toronto, wearing a gray hoodie emblazoned in red with the word “CANADA” and a blue cap with the logo of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Smiling broadly, the 18-year-old posed for photographers with Freeland at her side, but made no statement.
Freeland said Al Qunun “wanted Canadians to see that she’s here, that she’s well and that she is very, very happy to be in her new home.”
“She had a pretty long journey and is exhausted and prefers not to take questions for the moment,” the diplomatic chief added, with an arm around Al Qunun’s shoulder.
Al Qunun’s lawyer Francois Zimeray told AFP he was confident his client would receive financial support from Canadian authorities and non-governmental groups.
The government and the NGOs will also “do what’s necessary so she can resume the studies she had stopped under pressure from her family,” Zimeray added.
Al Qunun captured the world’s attention with a trail of Twitter posts that ignited a #SaveRahaf movement as she fled what she said was physical and psychological abuse from her family in Saudi Arabia.
Her family has denied the abuse allegations.
The publicity thwarted an attempt to deport her to Saudi Arabia after she arrived in Bangkok on a flight from Kuwait a week ago, with Thai authorities instead turning her over to the UN’s refugee agency.
Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Thailand denied reports that Riyadh had requested the extradition of the young woman, the embassy said on Twitter.
Then on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the surprise announcement that Canada would welcome her.