With just hours to go until footballer Hakeem al-Araibi returns home to Melbourne after weeks spent in a Thai prison, former Socceroos captain Craig Foster this morning expressed his thanks to everyone involved in the process to block his extradition to Bahrain – but has also called for “more humane policies for all the ‘Hakeem’s’ who come into Australia’s care.”
Speaking to The Today Show while wearing a #SaveHakeem shirt, the human rights advocate shared his gratitude to the human rights organisations, sporting legends, and political figures who lobbied the Thai government to protect al-Araibi.
“Scott [Morrison] can claim a lot of credit here,” Foster said, referring to the Prime Minister’s decision to write to his Thai counterpart after community pressure to advocate for al-Araibi’s release.
“It’s not often we can say that about all of our politicians, but he actually did a fabulous job,” Foster said.
He also recognised the input of cave-diving heroes and Australians of the Year Dr Richard Harris and Dr Craig Challen, who also wrote to Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
“It’s easy to underestimate how revered those two guys are back in Thailand,” Foster said.
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) February 11, 2019
But Foster also released an open letter, asking for more to be done to protect refugees in similarly vulnerable circumstances.
“Now, I’m calling on Scott and [Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne] to commit to more humane policies for all the ‘Hakeem’s’ who come into Australia’s care,” he wrote.
“Our nation has a big heart, and we saw just how big in the past few months, and we need to carry this compassion forward. Any person who we, Thailand or any other country mistreat is one too many.
“Australia must do better than we have in recent years.”
While delighted Hakeem is free and will be with his wife today, we are just warming up because this was a fight for the soul of sport and, whilst a blow has been struck, a great battle lies ahead. Thankyou to everyone. An incredibly uplifting win for the human spirit #HakeemSaved pic.twitter.com/BO9mlgvKCa
— Craig Foster (@Craig_Foster) February 11, 2019
Al-Araibi fled his home of Bahrain after being accused of firebombing a police station in 2012, an allegation he refuted with video evidence that he was playing at the time of the incident. Regardless, human rights activists claim al-Araibi was tortured as a result of the claim.
Under threat of further persecution, he fled the nation in 2014, and was eventually granted a permanent protection visa by Australia.
25-year-old al-Araibi, who had been sentenced in absentia to ten years in jail in Bahrain, travelled to Thailand in late November on his honeymoon. Thai authorities arrested him at Bangkok airport on November 27 after receiving an Interpol red notice, which acted as a call to detain him with the intent of extradition.
Activists questioned the validity of the red notice and warned that al-Araibi’s life would be at risk if he were to return to Bahrain. In a letter, the Australian embassy in Bangkok said the premise of his detention was flawed as “the red notice should never have been issued because of Mr Alaraibi’s status as a protected refugee.”
Thanks to a coalition of supporters including Foster, news of al-Araibi’s detention eventually reached international footballing superstars like Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini, retired Chelsea and Ivory Coast legend Didier Drogba, and Premier League-winning striker Jamie Vardy.
Vardy has also expressed his joy at Al-Araibi’s release.
— Jamie Vardy (@vardy7) February 11, 2019
Al-Araibi is expected back in Melbourne this afternoon.