By Lan KB
Who is Rahaf al-Qunun?
She is a Saudi teenager who fled her family from Kuwait after alleging abuse. The 18-year-old then got stranded at a Bangkok airport.
On Jan 5, she sent out her first series of tweets from an airport hotel room in Bangkok.
Her first tweet, in Arabic, read:
“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.”
The she sent out this chilling tweet:
“I’m afraid. My family will kill me.”
She had 24 followers then. But it was not too long before the hashtag #SaveRahaf was sent out.
What’s the backstory?
She had been on a trip to Kuwait with her family when she fled on a flight to the Thai capital, saying she intended to take a connecting flight to Australia and had an Australian visa, reported BBC.
But she said her passport was seized by a Saudi diplomat when he met her coming off the flight in Bangkok, leaving her stranded.
A Saudi envoy in Bangkok denied any official Saudi involvement in her detention, and her passport was later returned.
Thai officials initially described her case as a “family problem” and said she would be repatriated back to Kuwait the next day.
However, Rahaf sent a series of tweets pleading for help from her airport hotel room, and her case was picked up by Human Rights Watch and journalists.
Thailand allowed her to stay and the UN assessed her claim for asylum.
What happened next?
Although she had wanted to land in Australia, Canada came in first to grant her asylum.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland introduced the teenager as “a very brave new Canadian”.
“She is a very brave young woman who has been through a lot… and she is now going to go to her new home,” the minister added.
— #BREAKING: PM Justin Trudeau confirms Canada has granted asylum to Saudi teen #Rahaf al-Qunun. She is currently en route to #Canada from Thailand and will arrive 11:15 AM ET.@THEBELAAZ #RahafSaved pic.twitter.com/lDRi9KMNFq
— BELAAZ (@THEBELAAZ) January 11, 2019
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meanwhile said his country had granted a request from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to grant asylum.
“Canada has been unequivocal that we will always stand up for human rights and women’s rights around the world,” he said.
Role of social media
Rahaf’s journey from Kuwait to Canada, via Thailand, was made possible by the power of social media. In her case, the power of Twitter.
This is her tweet on Jan 12 when her ordeal was over:
I would like to thank you people for supporting me and saiving my life. Truly I have never dreamed of this love and support
You are the spark that would motivate me to be a better person
— Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد (@rahaf84427714) January 11, 2019
When she first started tweeting on Jan 5, she had 24 followers. In less than 24 hours, the number of her followers grew to 27,000. Today ( Jan 13), she has 162,000 followers!
You can read about her journey at her tweet handle at https://twitter.com/rahaf84427714