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‘Smiling face’: Saudi teen fleeing family is granted asylum in Canada

Jan 11, 2019

By Wilawan Watcharasakwet and Timothy McLaughlin

A Saudi woman who fled her family, claiming fear for her life, and used social media to amplify her calls for safe haven was granted asylum by Canada on Friday, an official in Thailand said.

The decision to give haven to the 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun capped a nearly week-long drama that highlighted the power of social media to call attention to her case and reverse initial plans by Thai officials to deport her to Kuwait, where she fled her family while on holiday.

Alqunun’s appeal for refu­gee status also underscored the severe restrictions that women in Saudi Arabia face. Under the kingdom’s strict guardianship laws, adult women must obtain permission from a male guardian to travel abroad, marry or be released from prison. In some cases, a male’s consent is also necessary to work.

Alqunun, who was stopped by Thai authorities, had barricaded herself in her airport hotel room and demanded to meet with representatives of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

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