Failure to send an email on the part of a single Australian Border Force employee has been blamed in-part for the detention of Hakeem al-Araibi in Thailand on the grounds of an erroneously filed Interpol red notice.

Al-Araibi was held in Thailand for over two months, facing extradition to Bahrain, from whom al-Araibi successfully sought protection status as a refugee in Australia. Al-Araibi was freed earlier this month after the extradition case against him was dropped.

Al-Araibi’s detention in Thailand came after Australian authorities notified Thailand of his imminent arrival. Under Interpol guidelines, red notices aren’t filed in the case of someone who has been granted protection status.

Speaking in Senate estimates today, the head of the Australian Border Force, Michael Outram, said that the ABF’s failure to inform the Australian Federal Police of al-Araibi’s refugee status led to the AFP notifying Thailand. Outcram described the fault as a “human error [that] occurred within the ABF process“.

When the ABF match a person to an Interpol alert, a true match notification advice is manually sent via email from the ABF to the AFP national central bureau and to the Department of Home Affairs’ visa and citizenship group,” Outram told the committee. “On this occasion, the true match notification email was not sent by the ABF to the AFP or to the Department of Home Affairs, which was an error, and contrary to the agreed process.

Speaking earlier in estimates about their review of the incident, AFP Deputy Commissioner Ramzi Jabbour said that they had similar email issues, focused on someone not using ‘reply all’ when they should have:

An AFP [National Central Bureau] member emailed Home Affairs character and cancellation branch law enforcement liaison, to their group email address, to convey correspondence from NCB Bahrain alleging that Mr al-Araibi had indeed departed Australia on a suspected false travel document. The email requested confirmation of the validity of Mr al-Araibi’s travel document.

That same day, 28 November, Home Affairs responded to the individual AFP NCB member’s email account, advising that Mr al-Araibi was travelling on the valid travel document and also held a protection visa. . . . Home Affairs advised that details regarding Mr al-Araibi’s visa and travel documents should not be disclosed at that time. . . . That said, however, after sending the original email to Home Affairs, the individual AFP NCB member ceased duty and did not return to duty until after NCB received separate advice the following day regarding Mr al-Araibi’s visa status. 

While Outram acknowledged that that failure led to the AFP informing the Thai government of the red notice out for al-Araibi, he declined to apologise, suggesting that his detention could have come about via another mechanism: “I apologise for the error that occurred within the Border Force, but I can’t say – nor can I accept – that that error necessarily led to his detention in Thailand, that it wouldn’t have occurred anyway. That’s the point I’m making.”

Image: EPA / Diego Abuzel