Saudi teen to depart Thailand for Canada asylum: Thai immigration chief

Rahaf Mohammed Al Qunun is currently in the care of United Nations officials

The 18-year-old Saudi asylum seeker who fled her family to Thailand and harnessed the power of Twitter to stave off deportation on Friday abruptly suspended her account, with friends saying she had received death threats.

Qunun, who had initially meant to seek asylum in Australia, chose Canada instead because Australia took too long assessing whether to grant her asylum.

Canada's ambassador saw Ms Qunun off at the airport in Bangkok and she looked happy and healthy, said Thailand's immigration police chief Surachate Hakparn.

Raif Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar also praised Canada, calling Freeland on Twitter "the real hero" behind efforts to prevent Qunun's repatriation to Saudi Arabia.

Alqunun, from Hail in northwestern Saudi Arabia, had said she feared she may have been killed if forced to return to her family.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed his country had granted her asylum.

Trudeau said United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had asked Canada to take in Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who grabbed global attention this week after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to her family, which denies any abuse.

Ms.al-Qunun's case has highlighted the cause of women's rights in Saudi Arabia.

Freeland said Alqunun commented about the cold weather and she responded that it gets warmer in Canada.

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"It was a pleasure for me this morning to welcome to her new home a very courageous new Canadian", Freeland said.

That relationship went sideways last August over Ottawa's rights criticism of Saudi Arabia, prompting Riyadh to expel the Canadian ambassador and sever all trade and investment ties in protest. "Truly I have never dreamed of this love and support".

A Korean Air flight carrying Qunun left Bangkok for Seoul on Friday night at 11:37 p.m. local time (1637 GMT), an airport official told Reuters.

After being denied entry by Thai immigration officials, Qunun then barricaded herself inside a hotel room, posting live updates on social media. On Tuesday, her father arrived in Bangkok in an attempt to bring her back to Kuwait, but she refused to see him. However, the man did not show up, she said. Surachate said the father - whose name has not been released - denied physically abusing Qunun or trying to force her into an arranged marriage, which were among the reasons she gave for her flight.

The UNHCR welcomed Canada's decision and also acknowledged Thailand had given Qunun temporary refuge.

Earlier, Gen Surachate told reporters Friday that "two or three" countries were ready to offer her asylum.

"I understand that there have been death threats against her but I don't know the details", said Human Rights Watch's Mr Phil Robertson, adding that even threats from online trolls need to be taken seriously.

As she entered the arrivals area, she was accompanied by Canada's minister of foreign affairs, Chrystia Freeland, who has been a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia's jailing of female dissidents.

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