A young Saudi woman who caused a sensation by defying her family and seeking asylum abroad was welcomed with open arms in Toronto Saturday at the end of an exhausting international odyssey. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland greeted Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, after she landed in Toronto, wearing a blue ball cap and a gray hoodie emblazoned in red with the word “CANADA.”Smiling broadly, she posed for photographers with Freeland at her side, but made no statement. “She had a pretty long journey and is exhausted and prefers not to take questions for the moment,” Freeland said.Qunun captured the world’s attention with a trail of Twitter posts that ignited a #SaveRahaf movement as she fled what she said was an abusive family in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia. Thai authorities backed down on an attempt to deport her after she arrived in Bangkok on a flight from Kuwait a week ago, turning her over to the US’s refugee agency instead. Then on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the surprise announcement that Canada would take her in.The move is sure to further strain Canada’s relations with the kingdom. 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. Canada also sparked fury in Riyadh by demanding the “immediate release” of jailed rights campaigners, including Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi, whose family lives in Quebec. Qunun’s attempt to flee Saudi Arabia was embraced by rights groups as a beacon of defiance against repression.‘Precarious situation’ “Ms. al-Qunun’s plight has captured the world’s attention over the past few days, providing a glimpse into the precarious situation of millions of refugees worldwide,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).“Refugee protection today is often under threat and cannot always be assured, but in this instance international refugee law and overriding values of humanity have prevailed.” 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.Qunun alleged that she was abused by her family — who deny the allegations — and rights groups also said she had renounced Islam, risking prosecution in Saudi Arabia.Published in Daily Times, January 13th 2019.