Saudi social media sensation Rahaf Alqunun was met by
flowers and Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland upon arrival at Toronto
Airport on Sunday after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed to accept
her as a refugee on Friday. But is this Canada displaying its “commitment to
human rights” or just a cheap ploy to generate propaganda in favor of it and
against Saudi Arabia?
When we think of refugees, we think of people devastated by war, genocide and famine, forced to continue living in difficult situations, crowded in dismal refugee camps and often still threatened by the very conditions that initiated them to flee in the first place. But when it comes to Alqunun, she is not what one would think of as a refugee. She wasn’t forced to leave everything behind due to some tragic catastrophe. Rather, she was relatively well off, her family able to afford the luxury of travel while she posted pictures of herself on social media through her smartphone.
Even during her flight to Canada, she posted a picture of herself with a glass of wine and the hashtag “#i_did_it”, appearing more like a snobby teen who cheated the system, got her way and traveled to the West, as opposed to someone truly grateful to be given a chance at a new life after facing horrible circumstances.
Other questions arise as well, especially considering the recent media campaign that has been launched against the regime in Saudi Arabia, including over the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Qatar’s Al Jazeera, Turkish news outlets and western media in support of the Muslim Brotherhood have been pushing both cases in their coverage against the Saudi kingdom. The sudden appearance of Alqunun leads some observers to question whether this is another Qatari ploy to generate anti-Saudi propaganda.
Alqunun’s Twitter account was only activated on January 5, 2019 while she was attempting to travel from Bangkok, Thailand after supposedly fleeing from her family while in Kuwait. At first, she claimed to be 20 years old.
انا ابلغ من العمر ٢٠ سنة وبإستطاعتي أن أعيش لوحدي حرة، مستقلة بعيداً عن كل شخص لم يحترم كرامتي ولم يحترمني كامراة.— Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد (@rahaf84427714) January 5, 2019
But later she posted a copy of her passport that showed her date of birth, showing that she is only 18 years old. She went on to admit that she had just previously lied, because she “was afraid”, but why would she be afraid to provide her real age if she honestly felt in danger? One would assume that a younger girl would be given more concern from officials if there were truly a threat.
When I opened this account I didn’t wrote my real age because I was afraid, but now and as I said before I got nothing to lose so I’m shering it as well.— Rahaf Mohammed رهف محمد (@rahaf84427714) January 6, 2019
So why is Canada giving this one, well-off girl flowers, wine and asylum? Did Canada act out of pure compassion or is it merely trying to where the mask of human rights champion while attempting to drive a dagger in Saudi Arabia? If the Canadian government honestly cares about human rights, then why isn’t it doing more to help those who are truly in the most need?
According to the UNHCR, by the end of 2017, 68.5 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. There are 25.4 million refugees in the world, 40 million internally displaced people, and 3.1 million asylum-seekers, meaning that 1 in every 110 people globally is either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee.
More than 3 million Iraqis have been displaced across the country since the start of 2014 and over 260,000 are refugees in other countries, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Germany. It is estimated that over 11 million Iraqis are currently in need of humanitarian assistance.
More than 1.5 million people have taken refuge in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, where one in every four is either a refugee or an internally displaced person. Communities, authorities and infrastructure are at breaking point.
Due to overcrowding in camps and temporary settlements, more than 700,000 displaced in Iraq are living in informal settlements. Mass executions, systematic rape and horrendous acts of violence are widespread, and human rights and rule of law are under constant attack.
Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross has stated, “The displaced people of Iraq are exhausted. The Iraqi refugees are on the brink of a nervous breakdown, still waiting for the nightmare to end.”
“The many displaced people have only known war and violence. The big battles might be over, but their consequences definitely are not,” it said, adding, “Despite the fighting having come to an end, the requirements of the people in Iraq are staggering. The future simply must hold something better for them than the precarious reality they are a part of currently.”
However, while there are still many displaced people within Iraq, Canada is taking in only a small fraction of displaced Iraqis who have already sought refuge in neighboring countries like Jordan and Turkey.
In the 15 years between 2003 and 2018, Canada took in less than 40,000 Iraqi refugees, only 1,400 of which are ISIS survivors, according to the Canadian government.
At the same time, while Canada is touting its human rights track record, thousands are freezing, starving and dying in Canada’s streets.
According to a State of Homelessness in Canada report, as many as 300,000 are homeless in any given year, with admission that the real numbers are actually most likely much higher, as there are about 50,000 “hidden homeless” on any given night. In an Ipsos Reid poll in 2013, a staggering 1.3 million Canadians reported to have experienced homelessness or extremely insecure housing at some point within the past five years.
Just last week, a 35-year-old Toronto woman was trapped in the chute of a clothing donation box, reported Canada’s National Post. The woman, identified only as Crystal, was dead by the time firefighters were able to cut her from the League For Human Rights drop box.
The death marks the second time in only eight days that a Canadian has died while apparently trying to remove items from a clothing-donation bin due to poverty and homelessness. Videos have circulated on social media as showing the inhumane conditions being faced by many in Canada.
شوارع #كندا تعاني من البؤس والتشرد والحرمان، حيث يفترش الآلاف من المشردين الأرصفة بالرغم من البرد القارس وانخفاض درجات الحرارة وكما قالت الصحفية #الكندية كارين باستيان من الصعب حصر اعداد المشردين، وبعد ذلك كله تظهر لنا وزيرة الخارجية كريستيا بالشعارات الإنسانية المسيسه!— Fahad| فهد🇸🇦NO DM💡 (@FMS______8) January 13, 2019
Canada can give asylum to a high-profile social media sensation, but what is it really doing for human rights while thousands suffer on its own streets and millions suffer in Iraq and other devastated areas? Where are the flowers for all those left buried under the maple leaves and left to rot?