Home / World News / Hakeem Al-Araibi detained in Thailand: Australian refugee in limbo

Hakeem Al-Araibi detained in Thailand: Australian refugee in limbo

The world watched on last week as a diplomatic rescue mission unfolded in Thailand and a Saudi teen secured refuge a world away from the Middle East.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, barricaded herself inside a Bangkok hotel room, fearing she would be deported back to the Middle East.

Australia offered to help before Canada granted her asylum. She was flown from Thailand to Toronto just before midnight on Saturday.

While it was a happy ending for the teenager, another refugee is in limbo, tied up in red tape inside a Bangkok jail, waiting for help.

Just like Alqunun, who had her passport seized at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, Hakeem Al-Araibi’s trip to the popular Asian holiday destination turned into a nightmare when he arrived.

media_cameraRahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, smiles as she is introduced to the media at Toronto Pearson International Airport. Picture: Cole Burston/Getty Images/AFP

Al-Araibi, a former elite football player in Bahrain before being granted refugee status by Australia in 2012, travelled to Bangkok on a Jetstar flight from Melbourne on November 27.

He was on his honeymoon when authorities acted on a red notice from Interpol relating to alleged vandalism of a police station. Al-Araibi denies he is responsible and claims the vandalism occurred when he was playing a televised football match.

He was arrested and jailed, and despite the insistence of several international human rights organisations and the Australian Government, he remains locked up in a Thai prison.

Al-Araibi played for Bahrain’s national team but later publicly criticised the role of the Asian Football Confederation and a member of the Bahrain royal family. He was granted refugee status on the grounds he was persecuted and tortured in the Arabian Gulf state.

media_cameraBahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi was granted asylum by Australia before being detained in Thailand. Picture: Ian Currie

Last week, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with senior Thai officials in Bangkok. She raised the issue of Alqunun and raised concerns about the 25-year-old’s ongoing incarceration.

As Bahrain applies for extradition, pressure is mounting on the Thai government to set him free.

FIFA, world football’s governing body, appealed for his release last week, saying the arrest should never have happened.

“FIFA is therefore calling on all the relevant authorities (in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia) to take the necessary steps to ensure that Mr Hakeem Al-Araibi is allowed to return safely to Australia where he can resume his career as a professional footballer.”

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Roberton told National Public Radio that Al-Araibi’s detention adds to “a very, very bad four years for refugees and asylum seekers in Thailand”.

media_cameraAustralian Foreign Minister Marise Payne speaks to the press regarding the case of detained Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi in Bangkok last week. Picture: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP

“We have seen Uyghurs sent back to China. We saw an ethnic Han Chinese activist couple sent back to China despite the fact that Canada had already informed Thailand that they were going to be resettled to Canada,” he said.

“We’ve seen human rights activists who are registered with the UN Refugee Agency sent back to Cambodia, sent back to Vietnam.”

In Melbourne, where Al-Araibi played with Pascoe Vale FC, teammates and management are crossing their fingers and hoping for a safe and speedy return.

Club president Lou Tona told The Guardian it was a stressful time.

“We’re trying to keep positive and optimistic that he’s coming back but it’s a bit scary,” he said.

“We’ve been working with Football Victoria and the FFA, and the players’ federation of Australia. And also we’re trying to get through to the head of FIFA.

“They’ve got an approach that they feel speaking publicly about this doesn’t always help.”

Originally published as Honeymoon ends in Thai jail

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