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Canada grants asylum to Saudi woman in Thailand

Last Updated Jan 11, 2019 at 4:57 pm EST

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada has granted asylum to a Saudi woman who fled alleged abuse by her family and was holed up in Thailand.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, was stopped last Saturday at a Bangkok airport by immigration police who denied her entry and seized her passport.

She barricaded herself in an airport hotel room and launched a social media campaign that drew global attention to her case.

Trudeau says the United Nations High Commission on Refugees made a request of Canada that it take Alqunun as a refugee and Canada accepted.

“That is something that we are pleased to do because Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights, to stand up for women’s rights around the world,” Trudeau told a news conference in Regina.

Alqunun’s case has highlighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

Several female Saudis fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home.

Canada taking Alqunun could further upset Saudi-Canada relations.

In August, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador to the kingdom and withdrew its own ambassador after Canada’s foreign ministry tweeted support for women’s rights activists who had been arrested. The Saudis also sold Canadian investments and ordered their citizens studying in Canada to leave.

Alqunun had previously said on Twitter that she wished to seek refuge in Australia.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with senior Thai officials in Bangkok on Thursday. She later said that Australia was assessing Alqunun’s request for resettlement.