Canada rescues Saudi teen Rahaf Al-Qunun — Australia asleep on the job

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Article by contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence (Image via @rahaf84427714)

Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun, the Saudi teenage asylum seeker now sanctioned for Canadian citizenship, has arrived in Toronto from Thailand, accompanied by Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland.

Thanks to the intervention by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and its negotiations with the Thai Government.

The 18 year old, who fled her family and country, risks the death sentence should she return to Saudi Arabia, for renouncing Islam and denouncing both State and familial subjugation of females. 

Freedom has come at a heavy price.


Even outside of Saudi, her life will continue to be in danger. The recent gruesome murder and dismembering of Saudi-born journalist and activist, Jamal Kashoggi in Turkey is proof of that.

Displaying extraordinary courage and defiance, al-Qunun outwitted all officials and political emissaries, to barricade herself in a Thai hotel, embarking on a six day war campaign on Twitter, reaching out to the world in her bid for freedom and emancipation.

From the BBC:

Fleeing her Saudi family in Kuwait, Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, sent out a series of tweets pleading for help from an airport hotel room in Bangkok.

At the time she had 24 followers.

"I'm the girl who ran away to Thailand. I'm now in real danger because the Saudi embassy is trying to force me to return," her first-ever tweet in Arabic read.

Then she said something that would be hard to ignore: "I'm afraid. My family will kill me."

As well as inspiring international support and encouragement, predictably, the young woman received death threats and ugly tweets.


IA was informed early yesterday that acting on security advice, al-Qunun's Twitter account was removed — not only because of the death threats, some of which are believed to be Saudi State sanctioned, but also because it is critical to not provide her enemies with additional intelligence and personal information. She is too vulnerable a target whilst in transit.

When we tested the twitter link, soon after it was announced that Canada was rescuing al-Qunun, this message appeared: 

'Sorry, that page doesn’t exist!'

However, her Twitter account now "exists" but at the time of writing, had not posted for 12 hours. 

Despite being tricked into handing over her passport and her ticket to Australia, the teenager did not give up on hope or the kindness of strangers. Just as well.

The Australian Government cannot be relied upon when it comes to decisive action and intervening on human rights issues — even with our own asylum seekers.

We displayed our typical slothlike response to al-Qunun’s request for asylum here.


Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s visit to Thailand this week compounded the Coalition’s diffidence. Payne, still a novice in the role, does not possess the political elan, street cred and international standing of former incumbent, Julie Bishop.

Payne’s lacklustre response to questions about al-Qunun, and how long it would take for Australia to make up its mind and process the teenager’s asylum requests , including that made by the UNHCR, said it all.


This grab of nothingness by the Minister, from the ABC website says it all:

"There are, as I have just said, a number of steps in the process, including in terms of that assessment," Ms Payne said.

"They are required to be taken and they will be completed within due course and then that matter will be resolved."

Enter Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Decisive. Incisive. And diplomatic but plain speaking.

Underscoring, Trudeau’s sentiment the UNHCR this morning posted this short statement:

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency welcomes the expected arrival in Canada of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun and the decision of the Canadian Government to provide international protection and a long-term solution for her there as a resettled refugee.

The quick actions over the past week of the Government of Thailand in providing temporary refuge and facilitating refugee status determination by UNHCR, and of the Government of Canada in offering emergency resettlement to Ms. al-Qunun and arranging her travel were key to the successful resolution of this case. Ms al-Qunun left Thailand en route to Canada today.

“Ms. al-Qunun’s plight has captured the world’s attention over the past few days, providing a glimpse into the precarious situation of millions of refugees worldwide.” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. “Refugee protection today is often under threat and cannot always be assured, but in this instance international refugee law and overriding values of humanity have prevailed.”

With political sentiment and public attitudes towards refugees having hardened in some countries in recent years, resettlement – the mechanism by which Ms. al-Qunun has been accepted by Canada – is available only to a fraction of the world’s 25.4 million refugees, typically those at greatest risk, such as women at risk. Ms. al-Qunun’s case was dealt with on a fast-track ‘emergency’ basis in light of the urgency of her situation.

There is no mention of Australia or Minister Payne in the statement. Why would there be? Minister Payne and the Coalition were sleeping whilst the UNHCR and Canada swiftly acted and rescued Rafah.

This Coalition and Minister Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Scott (SloMo) Morrison in particular, represent the dangerous nothingness that is Australia’s mean, uncaring and dehumanising attitude to human rights.

Thank you Canada, for saving Rafah Mohammed al-Qunun from being deported to Manus Island.

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