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Canada Showing Off Again, 'We Give Saudi Girls Asylum' Edition
Tim Hortons and poutine all around!
Rahaf Al-Qunun, the young Saudi woman who barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to plead on social media not to be sent back to her parents, arrived in Canada Saturday after being granted asylum. Wearing a "Canada" hoodie and UN High Commissioner for Refugees hat, she was met at the Toronto airport by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who gave the teen a bouquet of flowers and called her a "very brave new Canadian." And we think we have something in our eye now. Those UNHCR ball caps are a lot better than the red ones.
Freeland said Al-Qunun had commented to her about the cold weather in the Great White North, and said she'd reassured her "It does get warmer," so already the campaign of lies has begun. After the brief photo op, during which Al-Qunun didn't take any questions because good god flying from Thailand via South Korea is a long trip, the CBC reports she was "whisked to an undisclosed location" so she could get some rest from the trip and decompress after the international uproar over her attempt to find refuge.
Al-Qunun had run away from her family over a week ago while they vacationed in Kuwait, then flown to Bangkok to request asylum in Australia -- or anywhere, really. In a video, she said she wouldn't come out of her hotel room at the airport hotel until she could meet with UNHCR officials. She said her parents wanted to force her into an arranged marriage, and that she might face death if she refused, especially if she were sent back after making the Kingdom look bad. The Thai government's head immigration honcho, Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, told the Associated Press that Al-Qunun's father, whose name wasn't released, denied ever hurting her or arranging a marriage, but added maybe the poor gal just got resentful as teens will do, you know?
"He has 10 children. He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes," Surachate said.
While hiding in her hotel, Al-Qunun said Thai authorities had seized her passport and were working with the Saudi government to send her back to Kuwait, but by last Monday, she was able to meet with a representative of the UNHCR. The Thai government originally claimed it had planned to deport her for not having an airline reservation past Bangkok or a return ticket. But by Monday, the government had changed its tune, telling the New York Times Thailand super cared a LOT about Al-Qunun, and oh golly Thailand loves human rights, you bet, at least after international media and human rights groups started making a fuss:
"Thailand is a land of smiles. We will not send someone back to die," said [Gen. Surachate] "We will take care of her as best as we can."
Thailand's smiling military government doesn't have a shining human rights record itself, you may be astonished to learn, and as Human Rights Watch reports, frequently treats "asylum seekers, including those whom the United Nations recognizes as refugees, as illegal migrants subject to arrest and deportation." Thailand is accused of deporting refugees and asylum seekers back to authoritarian regimes like Turkey and Myanmar. Thai employers are happy to exploit cheap labor from undocumented foreign workers, but the government is awfully choosy about enforcing laws against human trafficking: While it imposes harsh punishments on some illegal foreign workers, it seems a bit blind to trafficking and debt slavery in the lucrative fishing industry. Vox notes the Thai government has been very cooperative with China in deporting members of the Muslim Uighur ethnic minorities back to China, no doubt smiling the whole while.
Now that Ms. Al-Qunun is safely in Toronto, it's not clear how Canada's decision to offer her refugee status will affect the country's relations with Saudi Arabia, which in August had itself a great big international snit over Canadian criticism of its treatment of women's rights activists and other dissidents. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, "Canada has been unequivocal that we will always stand up for human rights and women's rights around the world."
The Saudi government has so far said nothing about Al-Qunun's case, and state media hasn't reported her arrival in Canada, although the AP reports the Kingdom's officially sanctioned "National Society for Human Rights" is very concerned about the mistreatment of Saudi women. By international human rights groups, don't you see.
[The group] said it deplores the methods used by some foreign officials and organizations to "incite" some young Saudi females to disobey their families and leave the country.
In a statement late Saturday, the group's director, Muftal al-Qahtani, slammed alleged political motives of some countries and said attempts to encourage these women to disobey their families leaves some vulnerable to abuse and trafficking, and harms families. Al-Qahtani insisted women facing abuse in the kingdom can turn to Saudi authorities and local organizations for assistance.
And we bet once young women raise their concerns, everything is just fine and you never hear them complaining again, ever.
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