Saudi Woman Holed Up in Thailand Finds Asylum in Canada

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family and garnered international attention after barricading herself in a Thai hotel enroute to Australia was granted asylum after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepted a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) request. Rahaf Mohammed had been stopped by Thai authorities in Bangkok, leading to a stand-off at a Bangkok airport hotel, which she began sharing in detail on social media.

Eventually, Thailand granted her entry, a move for temporary refuge that the UNHCR welcomed. Officials still needed to intervene when Mohammed’s family arrived to try to bring her back, with their efforts failing after Thai Immigration Police Chief Surachate Hakparn said, “the UN will need to approve.” Describing Mohammed status at the time, Surachate noted that “her physical and mental health is good.”

Australia, Mohammed’s original destination, and Canada both began processing her asylum request while she was in Bangkok. “The UNHCR has referred Ms. Rahaf Mohammed Al-Ms Qunun to Australia for consideration for refugee resettlement,” Australia's Department of Home Affairs confirmed. Before Australia’s could be completed, however, Trudeau accepted the request for Canada, a move subsequently acknowledged by Thai immigration authorities.

“Canada said it will accept her,” Surachate told reporters, indicating that Mohammed would arrive in Toronto after a stopover in Seoul, South Korea.

Upon her arrival on January 12, Mohammed was greeted by Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who remarked to reporters, “She is obviously very tired after a long journey.” The 18-year-old now plans to pursue an education, get a job, and live a normal life in Canada.

In a brief press conference, Mohammed said, “I would like to start by saying thank you.” She has since detailed the mistreatment by her family, saying she hoped her story would encourage other Saudi women to be “brave.” Commenting on her recent trials, Mohammed told media her case might be the “agent for change” for Saudi women, and said the journey was “worth the risk.” Added Mhammed: “Lots of girls think the same way.”