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Hakeem al-Araibi, refugee footballer returns to Australia after Thai detention

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On Tuesday, refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi arrived at the Melbourne airport, where he was greeted by a huge crowd of supporters who wore T-shirts with slogans #saveHakeem and sang the football anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Overwhelmed with joy of making it back to Australia and ending 80 days long Thai detention, Araibi said, “I want to thank Australia. This is my country. I don’t have citizenship yet, but my country is Australia. I will die in Australia and I love Australia.”

Besides, hundreds of well-wishers, Araibi was received at the airport by Craig Foster, a TV host and a former football player, who also advocated his release through a media campaign and by raising an international debate. Foster praised Australian government for building diplomatic pressure and urged the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payn to promote “more humane policies for all the Hakeems who come into Australia’s care.”

25-year-old defender was detained in Thailand on November 27 during his honeymoon at the request of his native country Bahrain. Bahraini authorities have accused him of being involved in the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings and have sentenced him in absentia to 10 years for destroying a police station.

Araibi denied the allegations and said that his prosecution was triggered due to his criticism of Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a member of Bahrain’s ruling family.

Due to the rising international outcry and diplomatic pressure, the Arab kingdom ended its extradition attempt on Monday. Bahraini foreign ministry issued a statement to Thai officials stating it “takes note of the halt in legal proceedings”, which lead to his release. Though, the statement also mentions that “the guilty verdict against Mr. Al Araibi remains in place…Bahrain reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against Araibi”.

The footballer’s detention was processed through an Interpol red notice which was issued by Bahrain, despite international law specifying that refugees cannot be returned to the country from which they have fled. Araibi fled to Australia in 2014 and was granted refugee status in 2017.

Penny Wong, an Australian senater and current Shadow foreign minister raised the Interpol red notice service issue and demanded investigations on how Bahraini authorities knew Araibi was out of Australia. She said, “There are questions that do need to be answered about how this occurred and the process by which it occurred.”

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