In November, Melbourne-based footballer and refugee Hakeem Al-Araibi languished in a Thai prison cell after his wrongful detention. This morning, Al-Araibi stood free in Federation Square to become an Australian citizen.
Al-Araibi, 25, took the citizenship pledge in the Melbourne today, just weeks after a saga which drew international scrutiny and condemnation.
Taking to Twitter, Al-Araibi said gaining his citizenship was a “wonderful and awesome feeling”.
Images from the event show the Pascoe Vale FC player flanked by Craig Foster, the former Socceroo who drew mainstream media attention to his plight, along with Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne.
— Professional Footballers Australia (@thepfa) March 11, 2019
Al-Araibi, who travelled to Thailand last year to honeymoon with his wife, was detained in Bangkok on November 27 after an extradition request from his birth nation of Bahrain.
Bahraini authorities claim Al-Araibi firebombed a police station in 2012. In 2014, fearing for his life and facing charges for a crime he says he did not commit, Al-Araibi fled for Australia. He was granted refugee status in 2017. Bahrain sentenced him to ten years imprisonment in absentia.
As a protected refugee, Al-Araibi should have been shielded from extradition to the country from which he fled.
However, an alleged miscommunication between the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Home Affairs meant Thai authorities acted on an Interpol red notice – an international wanted person’s notice – without being informed of Al-Araibi’s protected refugee status.
Al-Araibi spent weeks behind bars before the error was recognised, and was only released after intense lobbying from figures like Foster encouraged Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to discuss the issue with his Thai counterpart Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha.
The semi-professional player received a hero’s welcome upon his return to Melbourne, where he voiced his love for Australia and his desire to become a citizen.
“And Australia, this is my country,” Al-Araibi said at the time.
“I don’t have citizenship yet, but my country is Australia.”
Now he’s got the paper to prove it. Onya, Hakeem.
207 new Citizens today from 44 countries at Fed Sq inc one very proud new Aussie who, after Australia demonstrated our values in fighting for his freedom, is deeply motivated to contribute to his new country. We’re proud of you Hakeem, and delighted to welcome you onboard 👏 pic.twitter.com/OVzKyoij85
— Craig Foster (@Craig_Foster) March 11, 2019