The 18-year-old Saudi girl who fled the kingdom after rejecting it’s strict Islamic laws has said she hopes her experience would inspire other women to do the same.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun arrived in Toronto on Saturday after Canada granted her asylum on the advice of the United Nations’ refugee agency.
Ms al-Qunun has today spoken of finally being ‘free’ from abuse and oppression by both the Saudi government and her own family, but admitted that her parents announcing they have disowned her had upset her.
Brave: Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, spoke of finally being ‘free’ from abuse by both the Saudi state and her family, after being granted asylum by Canada
‘How could my family disown me simply because I wanted to be independent and escape their abuse? It really upset me,’ Ms al-Qunun said.
When asked why she had fled her homeland, Ms al-Qunun replied: ‘I wanted to be free from abuse and depression.
‘I wanted to be independent. I wouldn’t be able to marry the person I wanted to. I couldn’t get a job without permission.’
Ms al-Qunun says 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 in recent years and returned home.
‘I think the number of women fleeing from the Saudi administration and abuse will increase, especially since there is no system to stop them,’ Ms al Qunun told Australian Broadcasting Corp. in an interview today.
Ms al-Qunun said in an Australian television interview that she expected her experience would inspire other women to flee her homeland
Before: The teenager, pictured with her 12-year-old sister, said it had upset her that her family had announced they had disowned her ‘simply because I wanted to escape their abuse’
Safe arrival: The teenager arrived in Canada this weekend, after fleeing her home country earlier this month – allegedly to escape her abusive family
‘I’m sure that there will be a lot more women running away. I hope my story encourages other women to be brave and free.
‘I hope my story prompts a change to the law, especially as it’s been exposed to the world. This might be the agent for change,’ she added.
Ms al-Qunun said she felt ‘like I was born again’ when she was met at Toronto airport on Saturday by Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.
‘It was something amazing. There was a lot of love and hospitality, especially when the minister welcomed me and told me I was in a safe country and had all my rights,’ Alqunun said.
In a separate interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation she said arriving in her new homecountry was ‘worth the risk I took.’
‘I felt that I could not achieve my dreams that I wanted as long as I was still living in Saudi Arabia.’
New style: Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, has begun adapting to life in Canada after being granted asylum, with a photo showing her all bundled up in a winter jacket and woolly hat
Ms al-Qunun, accompanied by Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, right, and Saba Abbas, general counsellor of COSTI refugee service agency, left, arrives at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Ontario
Ms al-Qunun walks through sliding doors as she beams alongside officials at Toronto Pearson
From her personal Twitter account, al-Qunun thanked everyone for their support, saying she had never ‘dreamed of this love’
Al-Qunun shared photos to Twitter from her flight to Toronto, showing her relaxing in first class with wine and her legs up
In her new home, ‘I will try things I haven’t tried. I will learn things I didn’t learn. I will explore life. … I will have a job and live a normal life.’
Ms al-Qunun is the daughter of a Saudi governor and has nine siblings. She used a loophole in the state’s tough laws to travel to Kuwait unaccompanied.
From there, she purchased a ticket to Bangkok and was hoping to seek asylum in Canada, the United States, Australia, the UK or ‘any nation would protect her from being harmed or killed by her family’.
Instead, her passport was seized by a Saudi diplomat and she was forced to lock herself in an apartment room.
Canada is now the new home for Saudi refugee Ms al-Qunun (pictured) after Canada answered a request by the UNHCR
Ms al-Qunun (pictured) previously reacted to news Australia was considering granting her asylum, saying, ‘Is it true??? Australia wants me to go there??? I’m so happy’
The 18-year-old was detained in Thailand following her arrival in the country. She is pictured having barricaded herself in an airport hotel room in a bid to avoid deportation
She says she spent months planning her escape before implementing her dangerous plan on January 5.
She barricaded herself in an airport hotel room where her social media campaign got enough public and diplomatic support that Thai officials admitted her temporarily under the protection of U.N. officials, who granted her refugee status Wednesday.
Several other countries, including Australia, had been in talks with the U.N.’s refugee agency to accept Ms al-Qunun before she flew to Canada.
Australian media reported that UNHCR had withdrawn its referral for Ms al-Qunun to be resettled in Australia because Canberra was taking too long to decide on her asylum
UNHCR spokeswoman Lauren La Rose said the fact she was processed so quickly is a credit to those that made it happen.
‘This is someone who was clearly in harm’s way, who clearly felt her life with her threatened, and my colleagues in concert with governments in Thailand and Canada recognized that need,’ she said.