By Patpicha Tanakasempipat
BANGKOK (Reuters) – A Saudi woman who fled to Thailand saying she feared her family would kill her has been granted asylum in Canada and is traveling there on Friday, the Thai immigration chief told Reuters.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, will board a Korean Air flight from Bangkok to Seoul on Friday night, immigration chief Surachate Hakpark said, before boarding a connecting flight to Canada.
“Canada has granted her asylum,” Surachate told Reuters. “She’ll leave tonight at 11.15 p.m.
Canadian authorities said they could not confirm that Qunun had been granted asylum in Canada.
“We have nothing new to add on this right now,” a spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said.
Qunun arrived in Bangkok on Saturday and was initially denied entry but after a tense 48-hour stand-off at Bangkok airport, some of it barricaded in a transit lounge hotel room, she was allowed to enter the country and has been processed as a refugee by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Qunun has accused her family of abuse and has refused to meet her father and brother who arrived in Bangkok to try to take her back to Saudi Arabia.
Her case has drawn global attention to Saudi Arabia’s strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male “guardian” to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.
Qunun’s plight has emerged at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Instanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.
Australia had said on Wednesday that it was considering taking in Qunun.
(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in OTTAWA, Editing by William Maclean)