OTTAWA: An 18-year-old Saudi asylum seeker who fled her family and armed only with Twitter staved off deportation from Thailand has been accepted as a refugee by Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Friday.
“Canada has been unequivocal that we’ll stand up for human rights and women’s rights around the world,” Trudeau said. “When the United Nations made a request of us that we grant miss (Rahaf Mohammed) al-Qunun’s asylum, we accepted.
Earlier in the day, a Thai immigration official had said that the Saudi girl will leave Bangkok for Canada.
“She will fly to Canada at 11:15 pm tonight (1615 GMT),” immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told AFP.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun had abruptly suspended her account, with friends saying she had received death threats earlier today.
Her attempt to flee the ultra-conservative kingdom has been embraced by rights groups as a beacon of defiance against repression.
Thai authorities initially threatened to deport her after she arrived in Bangkok from Kuwait last weekend.
But armed with a smartphone and a hastily opened Twitter 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 case bounced across the world.
Qunun alleges abuse by her family — who deny the allegations — and rights groups also said she had renounced Islam, risking prosecution in conservative Saudi Arabia.
On Friday afternoon she posted a final cryptic tweet on her profile saying “I have some good news and some bad news” — shortly after her account was deactivated.
“Rahaf received death threats and for this reason she closed her Twitter account, please save Rahaf life,” tweeted supporter @nourahfa313, who has flanked Rahaf’s social media campaign with her own updates on Twitter.
“I understand that there have been death threats against her but I don’t know the details,” said Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch, adding even threats from online trolls need to be taken seriously.
Rahaf’s swift use of Twitter saw her amass more than 100,000 followers within a week, highlighting her plight and allowing her to avoid the fate of countless other refugees who are quietly sent back home or languish in Bangkok detention centres.
Though her asylum case has moved at lightning speed the mystery over which country will accept Rahaf remains.
Australia has dropped the strongest hints so far after the UN urged the country to accept her but its foreign minister said this week that it was still assessing the request.
Thailand’s immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters Friday that as far as he knows there are “two or three” countries who could offer asylum.
The Southeast Asian country is not a signatory to a convention on refugees and asylum seekers must be referred to a third country.
Until that happens she is under the care of UNHCR in Bangkok.
She has refused to see her father who travelled to Thailand and expressed opposition to her resettlement.