Watch: I wanted to be free from abuse, women in Saudi Arabia treated like children, says Saudi teen after Canada grants asylum

Ottawa, ON, CanadaUpdated: Jan 15, 2019, 12:29 PM IST
main img

Story highlights

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees granted her refugee status, and Canada agreed to take her in.

Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun said she felt "born again" when she arrived in Canada after being granted asylum.

Qunun, 18, grabbed international attention last week after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to her family, which denies abusing her. Qunun refused to meet her father and brother, who arrived in Bangkok to try to take her back to Saudi Arabia.

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees(UNHCR) granted her refugee status, and Canada agreed to take her in.

"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. I couldn't get a job without permission," she said.

On being accepted by Canada, Rahaf said: "I felt free and it was like I was born again. It was something amazing and I felt overjoyed. 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."

Qunun's case has drawn global attention to Saudi Arabia's strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male "guardian" in order to travel, something rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

"The Saudi administration controls a woman's life, her job and position. Women can't even travel on their own. Women in Saudi Arabia are treated like children, even if they are 50 or 60 years old. They treat women terribly. They aren't free or equal to their male counterparts," the teenager said.

Speaking with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Qunun hoped that her story would act as an agent of change and encourage other women in Saudi Arabia.

"I think the number of women fleeing from the Saudi administration and abuse will increase, especially since there is no system to stop them. 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," she said.

"I hope my story prompts a change to the law especially as it has been exposed to the world. This might be the agent for change," she added.