Wearing a “Canada” hoodie and smiling, Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun emerged from the arrivals gate at Pearson Airport Saturday after her long journey fleeing an allegedly abusive family.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland walked out with her arm around the 18-year-old, calling her a “brave new Canadian.”
“This is Rahaf Alqunun,” Freeland said, “And she wants Canadians to see that she’s arrived at her new home. But she’s had a very long and tiring journey and so she would prefer not to take questions today. So please respect that. She’s a brave young woman who’s been through a lot and she is now going to go to her new home.”
She then escorted Alqunun back into the gated arrivals area.
The young woman fled her family while visiting Kuwait and flew to Bangkok, where she barricaded herself in an airport hotel and launched a Twitter campaign that drew global attention to her case.
Twitter Ads info and privacyAlqunun says her father physically abused her and tried to force her into an arranged marriage.
Her father, who arrived in Bangkok not long before she left for Canada, has denied those allegations.
Her flight from Seoul, South Korea, landed a day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his government would accept Alqunun as a refugee.
“It was a pleasure for me this morning to welcome to her new home a very brave new Canadian,” Freeland told reporters at the airport. “She is obviously very tired after a long journey and she prefers to go and get settled.
“It was Rahaf’s choice to come out and say hello to Canadians. She wanted Canadians to see that she’s here, that she’s well and that she’s very, very happy to be in her new home. Although she did comment to me about the cold.”
Freeland said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees felt Alqunun was in a dangerous situation, and Canada was glad to be able to offer refuge. She thanked Canada’s diplomats, in particular the embassy and ambassador in Thailand.
The minister was asked if Alqunun’s arrival signifies a message to other women in danger that Canada will take them in as well, to which she responded: “Canada believes very strongly in standing up for human rights.”
“Women’s rights are human rights,” Freeland said. “There are many women, far too many women who are in dangerous situations both in Canada and around the world. For a single woman or girl to be in a dangerous situation is one too many.”
She added that the oppression of women is not a problem that can be resolved in a day.
“Rather than cursing the darkness, we really believe, I believe, in lighting a single candle. And where we can save a single person, where we can save a single woman, that’s a good thing,” Freeland said.
With files from the Canadian Press
Kenyon Wallace is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @KenyonWallace or reach him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org