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Saudi woman barricades herself in Thai hotel to stop deportation | Saudi Arabia News

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An 18-year-old Saudi woman held at Bangkok airport who says she is fleeing domestic abuse has taken to social media to appeal for help and prevent her deportation by Thai authorities.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun said she fled Kuwait while her family was visiting the Gulf country and had planned to travel on from Thailand to Australia to seek asylum. She said she was detained after leaving her plane in Bangkok and told she would be sent back to Kuwait.

Alqunun on Monday shared photos of herself on Twitter barricaded into the airport hotel room where she has been held since her arrival the previous day, as officials and police gathered outside the door to take her to a plane that would return her to Kuwait.

Alqunun appealed for the UN’s refugee agency to help her, and urged other passengers and travellers to take action.

“I’m not leaving my room until I see UNHCR,” she said in video posted on Twitter. “I want asylum.”

Alqunun was detained after she got off her flight in Bangkok, and was scheduled to be sent back on Kuwait Airways flight 412 leaving the Thai capital at 11:15am local time (04:15 GMT) on Monday.

She said she had originally planned to spend a few days in Thailand, a popular destination for medical treatment, so her actions would not fuel suspicion when she left Kuwait.

“When I landed at the airport, someone came and said he would process the (Thai) visa but he took my passport. He came back with what seemed to be airport security and said that my parents objected and said I must return to Saudi Arabia via Kuwait Airways,” she told Reuters news agency.

Her claim that her passport had been seized was backed by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Alqunun told AFP news agency on Sunday that her male guardian had reported her for travelling “without his permission”.

‘Losing hope’

She said she was trying to flee her family, who she accused of subjecting her to physical and psychological abuse.

Alqunun said she was certain she would be jailed if she were sent back.

“My family is strict and locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair,” she said.

“I’m sure 100 percent they will kill me as soon as I get out of the Saudi jail,” she said, adding that she was “scared” and “losing hope”.

The UNHCR said that according to the principle of non-refoulement, asylum seekers cannot be returned to their country of origin if they fear their life is under threat.

“The UN Refugee Agency has been following developments closely and has been trying to seek access from the Thai authorities to meet with Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, to assess her need for international protection,” it said in a statement. 

Georg Schmidt, the German ambassador to Thailand, wrote on Twitter that he had “great concern” for Alqunun and was in touch with the Thai authorities and the embassies of other countries about her situation.

Surachate Hakparn, Thailand’s immigration chief, confirmed to AFP that Rahaf had been detained.

“She had no further documents such as return ticket or money,” he said, insisting her case was a “family” matter. 

“She ran away from her family to avoid marriage and she is concerned she may be in trouble returning to Saudi Arabia. We sent officials to take care of her now,” he said.

Thailand insisted on Monday that Alqunun would be deported despite her desperate appeals.

‘Halt any deportation’

Phil Robertson, HRW Asia deputy director, criticised the actions of the Thai authorities.

“What country allows diplomats to wander around the closed section of the airport and seize the passports of the passengers?” he said, adding that there is “impunity” within the family unit in Saudi Arabia to abuse women.

“Saudi women fleeing their families can face severe violence from relatives, deprivaton of liberty and other serious harm if returned against their will,” Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW, also said in a statement. “Thai authorities should immediately halt any deportation, and either allow her to continue her travel to Australia or permit her to remian in Thailand to seek protection as a refugee.”

Another Saudi woman, Dina Ali Lasloom, was stopped in transit in the Philippines in April 2017 when she attempted to flee her family.

An airline security official told activists that Lasloom was heard “screaming and begging for help” as men carried her “with duct tape on her mouth, feet and hands” at the airport.

There was no immediate comment by the Saudi embassy in Thailand and officials in Riyadh.

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Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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