Saudi refugee welcomed to Canada by foreign minister

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By Daniel Bellamy  with Reuters
Saudi refugee welcomed to Canada by foreign minister
Copyright  Thailand Immigration Police via REUTERS

An 18 year old refugee from Saudi Arabia has arrived in Canada where she was welcomed by the country's foreign minister Chrystia Freeland.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who flew into Toronto from Thailand, said she had feared for her life after fleeing from her family who had physically abused her.

"She wanted Canadians to see that she's here, that she's well and she's very very happy to be in her new home, although she did comment to me about the cold," Freeland told reporters at Toronto airport.

Qunun grabbed international attention this week after barricading herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to her family.

She had refused to meet her father and brother, who arrived in Bangkok to try take her back to Saudi Arabia.

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

Qunun took a Korean Air flight from Bangkok to Seoul on Friday and then a connecting flight to Toronto.

She had arrived in Bangkok a week ago and was initially denied entry. But she soon started posting messages on Twitter from the transit area of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport saying she had "escaped Kuwait" and her life would be in danger if forced to return to Saudi Arabia.

Within hours, a campaign sprang up dubbed #SaveRahaf, spread on Twitter by a loose network of activists.

Following a 48-hour stand-off at Bangkok airport, some of it barricaded in a transit lounge hotel room, she was allowed to enter the country and has been processed as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Women in Saudi Arabia are subjected to many restrictions, including on their freedom of movement.

They cannot travel abroad without the permission of a male family member.

Recently some restrictions have been relaxed and women are now allowed to drive.

In a far smaller victory, under new divorce laws a husband must now text his wife to say that he's divorced her.

Previously husbands did not have to inform their wives at all.