Saudi teen to depart Thailand for Canada asylum - Thai immigration chief

In this Monday Jan. 7 2019 image made from video released by Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun  Human Rights Watch Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun views her mobile phone as she sits barricaded in a hotel room at an international airport in Bangkok Thailand. Alqunun says

The original question said, "18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun fled Saudi Arabia as she said her family would kill her for choosing to leave Islam - do you respect her decision?"

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, took a flight to Seoul, South Korea, with a final destination of Toronto, said Police Chief Surachate Hakparn.

She soon started posting messages on Twitter after barricading herself in a room in Bangkok's airport hotel saying she had "escaped Kuwait" and her life would be in danger if forced to return to Saudi Arabia.

Refugee status is normally granted by governments, but the UNHCR can grant it where states are "unable or unwilling to do so", according to its website.

"Canada has been unequivocal that we'll stand up for human rights and women's rights around the world", Trudeau told reporters.

Her case has drawn attention to Saudi Arabia's strict societal rules, including one that obliges women to have the permission of a male guardian to travel.

Several Saudi women fleeing abuse by their families have tried to seek asylum overseas in recent years but have been sent back home.

Canada also sparked fury in Riyadh by demanding the "immediate release" of jailed rights campaigners, including Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi, whose family lives in Quebec.

Qunun had previously said on Twitter that she wanted to seek refuge in Australia.

Australia's foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, is in Thailand on Thursday for an official visit.

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Hakparn said Canada had also offered Qunun asylum and they were waiting for her decision. Al-Araibi, however, faces a court trial in Thailand for extradition as requested by Bahrain for his role in anti-government protests.

Jacquie Love from women's rights organisation Secret Sisterhood said Qunun's story had touched her heart.

"The UNHCR has referred Ms Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement", the spokesperson said. Her friends said she had suffered abuse at their hands.

But armed with a phone, she barricaded herself into an airside hotel room and fought back - live-tweeting her fears of deportation in a campaign that swiftly galvanised global support and prompted a sharp U-turn by Thai officials.

Rahaf's swift use of Twitter saw her amass more than 100,000 followers within a week, highlighting her plight and allowing her to avoid the fate of countless other refugees who are quietly sent back home or languish in Bangkok detention centres.

The news began circulating and eventually Phil Robertson, the Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted out that al-Qunun needed access to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC).

A Saudi woman who fled her family, alleging abuse, moved a step closer Wednesday to her goal of gaining asylum in Australia after a United Nations agency granted her refugee status.

Online protest is a tactic long championed by women in Saudi Arabia.

A Tuesday statement from the Saudi Embassy in Thailand denied interfering in Alqunun's case, and said it was only monitoring her situation.

He was arrested while on holiday in Thailand last November due to an Interpol notice in which Bahrain sought his custody after he was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalizing a police station - a charge he denies.

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