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Saudi teen who was granted asylum in Canada says she's a lucky one

Last Updated Jan 15, 2019 at 12:10 pm PST

(Screenshot CityNews)

TORONTO – A Saudi teen whose flight from her allegedly abusive family captured global attention says she intends to fight for the freedom of women around the world.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun says the fact that she was able to leave Saudi Arabia and settle in Canada makes her one of the lucky ones.

“I know that there are unlucky women who disappeared after trying to escape, or who could not do anything to change their reality,” she said in a translated statement read aloud by Dr. Saba Abbas.

She says many women in her home country are not independent and depend on permission from male guardians for most aspects of their life.

The 18-year-old ran from her family, whom she alleged was abusive and trying to force her into an arranged marriage.

She barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room and tweeting that she feared for her life if she returned home. Her plea drew global attention

Mohammed’s case was fast-tracked by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which asked Canada to take her in as a refugee.

“When I heard the news from the UNHCR that Canada was selected as my new home, the stress that I felt over the last week melted away,” she said.

WATCH: Saudi teen granted asylum in Canada makes public statement


Mohammed, who has since stopped using her family name, hopes to lead an independent, but private, life now that she has settled in Toronto.

“Today and for years to come, I will work in support of freedom for women around the world. The same freedom I experienced on the first day I arrived in Canada.”

Mohammed is in Canada as a government-assisted refugee, which means she will have the government’s financial support for “typically up to 12 months,” Mario Calla, executive director of COSTI Immigrant Services, said at a press conference on Tuesday.

COSTI, which is under contract with the federal government, is assisting Mohammed with temporary lodging as well as help her find a more permanent place to live, Calla explained. The organization will also help her settle into life in Canada.

He has flagged concerns for Mohammed’s security.

“Where she’s staying, a professional security that we’ve contracted to be there, and we make sure that she is never alone,” he told reporters. “We are having additional meetings to see what else we may need to do. We haven’t seen any threats, but on social media there have been some threats. So we’re taking those measures.”

Calla says the organization will discuss the matter with the government, and adds if it will not cover the cost, COSTI will.

“She has taken a position that some take issue with. I have not seen the threats, but she said yes, she was feeling unsafe, so we have taken those measures.”

There were fears that Canada’s decision to grant Mohammed asylum could further upset the country’s relations with Saudi Arabia.

In August, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador to the kingdom and withdrew its own ambassador after Canada’s Foreign Ministry tweeted support for women’s right activists who had been arrested. The Saudis also sold Canadian investments and ordered their citizens studying in Canada to leave.

“This is Rahaf Alqunun, a very brave new Canadian,” Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said arm-in-arm with the Saudi woman when she arrived in Toronto on Jan. 12.