Canada agency hires guard for Saudi runaway's safety

Canada agency hires guard for Saudi runaway's safety
Following threats against Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed, Toronto agency Costi has hired a security guard to ensure 'she is never alone'.
2 min read
16 January, 2019
The 18-year-old caused an international sensation by defying her family and seeking asylum aboard [AFP]
Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun - who was recently granted asylum in Canada after running away from her home in the kingdom - has a security guard with her at all times to ensure she is "never alone", the Toronto refugee agency helping her said on Tuesday.

The 18-year-old, who caused an international sensation by defying her family and seeking asylum aboard, had received numerous threats online that sparked fears over her safety, Costi's executive director Mario Calla said.

"It's hard to say how serious these threats are. We're taking them seriously," Calla said, adding that the agency has hired security guards to "make sure she is never alone".

Al-Qunun captured the world's attention with a trail of tweets from her hotel room at Bangkok's airport, where she holed up after Thai authorities initially barred her from travelling on to Australia.

Her emotional social media posts ignited a #SaveRahaf campaign as she fled alleged physical and psychological abuse from her family in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia. The calls from the Saudi teenager prompted quick action from groups across the world, including the UN.

She was granted refugee status in Canada and was welcomed to the country by Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland after landing in Toronto on Saturday.

Costi has since been helping her find long-term accommodations, open a bank account, obtain Canadian documents, and enroll in English classes, as well as showing her how to get around and teaching her "about life in Canada".

"She feels safe because she knows she is in a safe country. The people (here) have her best interest at heart and are trying to help her. She has seen the outpouring of support," Calla said.

However, Qunun has admitted that the online threats posted on social media "scare her", he added.

When she reads those posts, "her emotions go back and forth".

On Monday, Al-Qunun told public broadcaster CBC of her family: "My greatest fear is if they find me, I would disappear, and I wouldn't know what would happen to me after that."

She said that at home, she was "exposed to physical violence, persecution, oppression, threats to be killed. I was locked in for six months".

"I felt that I could not achieve my dreams that I wanted as long as I was still living in Saudi Arabia," she said.

But in Canada, Qunun said, she has felt "reborn, especially when I felt the love and the welcome".

Agencies contributed to this report.