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Saudi woman who fled family: "We are treated as an object, like a slave"

Saudi woman hopes others will seek asylum

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her allegedly abusive family described what life was like for her in Saudi Arabia. She said in an interview Monday with Canadian news outlets CBC and The Star that she "got beat up" for not praying or helping around the house, and was locked in her home for cutting her hair short. 

"It's daily oppression," Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun reportedly said. "We are treated as an object, like a slave. We could not make decisions about what we want."

Al-Qunun was granted asylum in Canada after a dramatic week. She fled her family this month while visiting Kuwait and flew to Thailand, where, according to her account, her passport was seized and she was facing a return to her family. 

Al-Qunun then barricaded herself in an airport hotel to avoid deportation. She tweeted about her situation and the case grabbed global attention.

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson had tweeted a brief video of al-Qunun in her room, saying simply, "I'm not leaving my room until I see UNHCR [also known as the U.N. Refugee Agency]. I want asylum." The chief of Thailand's Immigration Police later said she would not be sent anywhere against her wishes.   

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family, speaks in Toronto
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family, speaks at the COSTI Corvetti Education Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada January 15, 2019. MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

"My life was in danger and I felt I had nothing to lose," al-Qunun said. "I wanted to tell people my story and about what happens to Saudi women." 

She said her family mentally and physically abused her since she was 16, CBC reported. She said she had faced violence at the hands of her brother and mother, which, according to The Star, her family denied. 

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

She said that after she fled, her family disowned her. 

Her situation has highlighted the issue of women's rights in Saudi Arabia, where several women fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home.

On Tuesday, she made a public statement in Canada, saying she wants to work in support of freedom for women around the world for years to come.