Runaway Saudi woman reaches her new home in Canada

  • Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, center, stands with Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, right, as she arrives Saturday at Toronto Pearson International Airport. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

TORONTO — Tired but smiling, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who said she feared death if deported back home arrived Saturday in Canada, which offered her asylum in a case that attracted global attention after she mounted a social media campaign.

“This is Rahaf Alqunun, a very brave new Canadian,” Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said arm-in-arm with the Saudi woman in Toronto’s airport.

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Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun smiled broadly as she exited an airport arrival door sporting a Canada zipper hoodie and a U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees hat, capping a dramatic week that saw her flee her family while visiting Kuwait and before flying to Bangkok. From there, she barricaded herself in an airport hotel to avoid deportation and tweeted about her situation. On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would accept Alqunun as a refugee. Her situation has highlighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, where several women fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad and returned home.

Freeland said Alqunun preferred not to take questions Saturday.

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“It was a pleasure for me this morning to welcome her to her new home,” Freeland said. “She is obviously very tired after a long journey and she preferred to go and get settled. But it was Rahaf’s choice to come out and say hello to Canadians. She wanted Canadians to see that she’s here, that she’s well and that she’s very happy to be in her new home.”

Alqunun flew to Toronto via Seoul, South Korea, according to Thai immigration Police Chief Surachate Hakparn. Alqunun tweeted two pictures from her plane seat — one with what appears to be a glass of wine and another holding her passport while on the plane with the hashtag “I did it.”

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