Saudi Teen Who Fled Family and Pleaded for Help on Twitter Granted Asylum in Canada

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, right, walks with an unidentified companion in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019.
Photo: Sakchai Lalit (AP)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has confirmed that Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, the 18-year-old Saudi woman who escaped her family and pleaded for protection on social media, has been granted asylum in Canada.

“The [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] has made a request of Canada that we accept Ms. Alqunun as a refugee, and we have accepted the UN’s request that we grant her asylum,” Trudeau said Friday. “That is something that we are pleased to do because Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights, stand up for women’s rights around the world.”


Alqunun reportedly fled her family—who she’s accused of beating her and threatening to kill her—while they were vacationing in Kuwait, at which time she boarded a plane to Thailand with the goal of reaching Australia. The New York Times reported last week that upon landing in Thailand, Alqunun was met by authorities who confiscated her passport and informed her that she needed to return to her family in Saudi Arabia. Alqunun ultimately barricaded herself inside of a hotel at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, where she’s been for roughly a week.

Alqunun’s plight gained widespread media attention after she began tweeting her story in early January. The young woman repeatedly claimed that she would face torture or even death at the hands of her family should she be forced to return. Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that Saudi women who attempt to escape their families “can face severe violence from relatives, deprivation of liberty, and other serious harm if returned against their will.”


Human rights activists have pointed to Alqunun’s story as underscoring the dangers often faced by women in Saudi Arabia, as well as the extraordinary lengths to which many must go to escape dire circumstances. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi in a statement said that Alqunun’s story provided “a glimpse into the precarious situation of millions of refugees worldwide.”

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, tweeted Friday that Alqunun’s triumph was “a victory for everyone who cares about respecting and promoting women’s rights.” Alqunun, who has amassed a Twitter following of 139,000, thanked supporters in a tweet for “supporting me and [saving] my life.”

[Washington Post]


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Trump Administration’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy Immediately Comes Under Fire

Photo: John Moore (Getty Images)

The Trump administration’s latest gambit to erode
constitutional and legal protections for asylum-seekers will be tested in the
courts, and if recent experience is any indicator, Trump’s probably going to
lose. Again.

On Thursday, the Trump administration announced a new policy
that would require asylum-seekers at the southern U.S. border to
remain in Mexico
while the U.S. processes those requests. The move could
endanger the lives of thousands of migrants, and it isn’t clear how it would
even work, or if Mexico is on board with the decision.

In an analysis by The Daily Beast, immigration advocates
said the Department of Homeland Security’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, as it is
known informally, violates
the Constitution, international treaties, and federal law

“Pushing asylum-seekers back into Mexico is absolutely
illegal under U.S. immigration law,” Human Rights First’s senior director for
refugee protection, Eleanor Acer, told The Daily Beast. “This scheme will
increase, rather than decrease, the humanitarian debacle at the border.

before the House Judiciary Committee
on Thursday, Homeland
Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the government’s “Catch and
release” program would be replaced with “catch and return.”


But there is a fundamental flaw with that strategy, as The New Yorker’s Jonathan Blitzer points
: “[P]eople who are fleeing for their lives cannot be turned away
without a chance to plead their case.”

The Trump administration already has failed at several
attempts to thwart people from seeking asylum in the U.S. The latest defeat in
court happened on Friday, when the U.S.
Supreme Court ruled 5-4
against the administration’s attempt to temporarily
reinstate a ban on asylum applications by migrants who crossed the border
outside an official point of entry, while the underlying case proceeds in

In addition to complicated logistics—such as how
asylum-seekers would meet with their lawyers or hold hearings with immigration
judges while in Mexico—the dangers of “Remain in Mexico” policy became
glaringly clear this week when two Honduran teenagers who were part of the
migrant caravan were stabbed
and strangled to death
by would-be robbers in Tijuana.


Per PRI, which reported on the teenagers’ deaths:

The boys’ deaths are a sobering reminder of the dangers
asylum-seekers may face while waiting in violent Mexican border regions, where
cartels and smugglers have big operations. Migrants are especially vulnerable
to being kidnapped and held hostage for ransom by criminal groups because they
don’t have ties to the community or a safe place to sleep. Fear of such crimes
is what led thousands of Central Americans to travel to Tijuana, which borders
San Diego, California, instead of the much closer Texas border crossings — because,
while dangerous, Tijuana is less dangerous than areas along the Texas border.

None of this seems to matter to Nielsen, who is more
concerned about “aliens trying to game the system…” But it does matter to law
experts and immigration advocates. Human Rights First’s Kennji Kizuka told The
Daily Beast that, “The administration seems to have no plan for implementation.”


“All of our organizations have been on the ground in Tijuana
recently and are united in our assessment that conditions there are very
unstable and very unsafe,” Kids in Need of Defense President Wendy Young added,
according to the news site.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt told USA Today, “This plan cannot
be done lawfully

Lawmakers will weigh in on the issue when Democrats take
control of the House in January. Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who is the
incoming Judiciary Committee chairman, told Nielsen, “I want to put you and the
department on notice: The time for accountability has arrived.”


He added,
according to USA Today, “The Trump administration, including DHS under your watch, has launched a relentless attack against immigrants of all stripes. The time for zero accountability is over.”

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Trump Is Sending Thousands of Armed Troops to the Border for an Obvious Political Stunt

Photo: John Moore (Getty)

President Trump will send more than 5,000 active duty soldiers to help “harden” the U.S.-Mexico border in the coming days, the Pentagon announced on Monday. The massive deployment is the latest extreme(ly racist) overreaction by the Trump administration to the caravan of several thousand Central American asylum seekers currently traveling through Mexico toward the United States.

Speaking with reporters on Monday, Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy confirmed that 5,200 soldiers will be sent to the bolster the 2,000 National Guard troops already playing menial support roles along the border, such as shoveling horse shit.

That number is a more than five-fold increase from earlier estimates, which claimed the Defense Department was prepared to send approximately less than 1,000 solders in the coming weeks. According to the Pentagon, 800 soldiers are already on their way, with the remaining 4,400 to be deployed shortly thereafter. To put things in perspective, keep in mind that what had initially swelled to a caravan of around 7,000 people when it first crossed into Mexico has been winnowed down to approximately 4,000, and is likely to shrink even more as it approaches the United States.

Meanwhile, the president is trying to discourage migrants from exercising their legal right to claim asylum by stationing almost half as many soldiers at the border as there are American soldiers in Afghanistan at the moment.

The specifics of how the administration settled on such a massive number of soldiers remains unclear. But according to Pentagon officials, they will be there for “mission enhancing capabilities” and will be armed, which means that the American public can looking forward to plenty of pictures of troops hopping out of humvees and looking angrily across rows of barbed wire—just in time for the midterm election! (This, of course, has been the White House’s plan all along.)


Late last week, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen declared that although her Border Patrol agents had “no intention” of opening fire on incoming asylum seekers, she could not rule out the possibility that federal agents would, in fact, shoot at undocumented immigrants trying to cross the border. I’m sure deploying thousands of armed soldiers will do wonders to deescalate the situation.

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Airlines in Australia face increasing pressure over refugees

Qantas and Virgin Australia are in the sights of human rights activists.
Qantas and Virgin Australia are in the sights of human rights activists.
Image: GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images

Activists are condemning Australian airlines for profiting off the deportation of refugees and asylum seekers. 

First reported by Fairfax, Qantas and Virgin Australia are in the sights of human rights activists for their role in the country’s immigration system, which multiple bodies within the UN have heavily criticised for failing to uphold international human rights standards.

The UN Human Rights Committee has long condemned Australia’s refugee policy, particularly the management of offshore detention centres on Nauru and (now-closed) Manus Island, where assaults, sexual abuse, child abuse, and squalid living conditions were documented.

Self-harm is a particular concern, as these locations have seen multiple refugee suicides, and medical facilities on Nauru have proven so inadequate several pregnant women have been flown to Australia for emergency medical treatment.

The Australian government uses Qantas and other airlines to transport asylum seekers for medical appointments, movements between detention centres, and involuntary deportation.

Activists want airlines to stop transporting refugees for the government, according to a statement from the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), and for Virgin Australia to follow the lead of UK affiliate Virgin Atlantic, which pledged to no longer help the British Home Office carry out involuntary deportations. 

Qantas and Virgin could also follow the examples of U.S. airlines American, United, and Frontier, which asked the government to refrain from using their planes to transport migrant children separated from their families. 

Qantas will hear concerns from ACCR and one of Australia’s prominent refugee legal centres, the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS), in a meeting on Friday. 

The groups will reportedly ask the airline to pledge not to transport involuntarily deported refugees and asylum seekers, either back to their original country where they could be subjected to persecution, or to locations of infinite detention, where human rights abuses have been documented including physical and sexual abuse, and inhumane living conditions.

Qantas didn’t sound like it was going to change its policy. “The Government and courts are best placed to make decisions on complex immigration matters, not airlines,” a Qantas spokesman told Mashable. “We appreciate that this is a sensitive issue.”

Virgin Australia issued a similarly neutral response to the calls. “Virgin Australia works with a number of Government organisations to transport passengers for a range of reasons,”  a spokesperson told Mashable. “Virgin Australia complies with Australian Immigration Law and will continue to take advice on this matter from the relevant authorities.”

Calling for “a heightened due diligence process” from Qantas in particular, a signed statement from ACCR wields the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, noting that “the corporate responsibility to respect human rights means taking measures to avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts.”

“We are not talking about business as usual here, ACCR executive director Brynn O’Brien said in a press statement. “We are talking about airlines facilitating, for profit, a system which is out of step with international law and exposes men, women and children to persecution and violence.

“We are talking about airlines facilitating, for profit, a system which is out of step with international law.”

“For a company like Qantas whose brand is so material to its value, it is extremely risky to take on contracts that expose its brand to association with a system that violates human rights.”

Contribution to human rights abuses, ACCR’s statement notes, doesn’t just affect the people the airline is involuntarily transporting — it’s bad for business. And look, if that gets this thing over the line, as opposed to companies remembering refugees and asylum seekers are human beings who deserve to be treated with respect and care, then so be it.

“Contribution to human rights abuses and failure to discharge their international obligations can do damage to a company’s reputation, undermine its social licence to operate, and pose material risks to a company’s financial interests,” reads the ACCR statement.

O’Brien said the activist coalition was actively recruiting Qantas shareholders to join the cause, aiming to take the issue to the Qantas annual general meeting this year.

So, why now? 

Well, thanks to recent changes in Australian refugee policy, protections for asylum seekers and refugees in the country are more insubstantial than ever.

“The human rights of refugees and people seeking asylum are no longer adequately protected by Australian law,” said RACS principal solicitor Sarah Dale in a statement. “In fact, recent changes mean that the Migration Act now deliberately ignores Australia’s international obligations.

“At RACS we have seen cases where people are entitled to protection of their rights under international law, but they can be returned them to harm under Australian law. The gap between Australia’s actions and its international obligations requires urgent attention.”

Australian lobby group GetUp! has thrown their support behind the call, having long championed the related No Business in Abuse campaign against corporations profiting from human suffering in Australia’s detention camps.

“Deporting people to danger should not be a part of the Qantas business model,” Shen Narayanasamy, human rights director of GetUp!, said in a statement.

“With the No Business in Abuse campaign our members have successfully and vociferously campaigned against companies involved in abusing the rights of asylum seekers, and we are willing to do so again.”

Fingers crossed for Friday’s meeting. f26d c8e6%2fthumb%2f00001

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