‘Nothing to lose’: Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed details family abuse

After gaining asylum in Canada, Rahaf Mohammed says she was exposed to violence and locked up for months in the kingdom.

Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun arrives in Canada at Toronto Pearson International Airport
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun has been granted asylum by Canada [Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who was granted asylum in Canada, said she was physically and mentally abused by her family since the age of 16, forcing her to risk her life and flee the kingdom. 

Speaking to the media for the first time since landing in Toronto on Saturday, the 18-year-old detailed the mistreatment by her family saying she hoped her story would encourage other Saudi women to be “brave and free”.

Last week, she fled to Thailand while visiting Kuwait with her family. Her case drew international attention on social media after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room after Thai authorities threatened to deport her and live-tweeted her desperate attempt to flee.

“My life was in danger and I felt I had nothing to lose. I wanted to tell people my story and about what happens to Saudi women,” she told Canada’s CBC news and the Toronto Star on Monday.

Mohammed, who has dropped “al-Qunun” from her name after learning about her family disowning her, said she was beaten up for not praying and locked in the house for six months for cutting her hair short.

“I was exposed to physical violence, persecution, oppression, threats to be killed,” she said. “I felt that I could not achieve my dreams that I wanted as long as I was still living in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s daily oppression,” Mohammed added. “We are treated as an object, like a slave. We could not make decisions about what we want.”

Following a 48-hour standoff at Bangkok’s airport, Mohammed was allowed to enter Thailand and was then processed as a refugee by the UN’s refugee agency.

The teenager claimed she had contemplated ending her life during the ordeal, as her father and brother travelled to retrieve her in Thailand.

“I was scared of being captured, arrested and sent back home, and no one would know anything about [me],” she said. 

‘Born again’

On Friday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada had accepted a request from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to take in Mohammed. 

Several other countries, including Australia, had been in talks with the UN’s refugee agency to accept the Saudi citizen before she flew to Canada.

She was welcomed by Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland at Toronto’s airport on Saturday.

“I feel very happy. I feel born again from feeling the love coming from everyone waiting for my arrival,” she said.

Mohammed told reporters she plans to learn English, rejoin school and find work in her adopted homeland. 

She said she hopes that her story that has garnered international attention will be a catalyst for change in Saudi Arabia.

“I think the number of women fleeing from the Saudi administration and abuse will increase, especially since there is no system to stop them,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“I’m sure that there will be a lot more women running away … I hope my story prompts a change to the law, especially as it’s been exposed to the world.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies