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BANGKOK 19 March 2019 00:27
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Hakeem Al-Araibi - How a refugee footballer's honeymoon turned into an extradition nightmare

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How a refugee footballer's honeymoon turned into an extradition nightmare

By Panu Wongcha-um and Patpicha Tanakasempipat

 

2019-02-13T075330Z_1_LYNXNPEF1C0EH_RTROPTP_4_THAILAND-BAHRAIN-REFUGEE.JPG

FILE PHOTO: Supporters greet refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi (centre) as he arrives at Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Australia, February 12, 2019. AAP Image/David Crosling via REUTERS/File Photo

 

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The honeymoon that Bahraini footballer Hakeem Al Araibi and his wife had hoped to have in Thailand late last year did not go according to plan.

 

As the 25-year-old, who has refugee status in Australia, got off a plane in Bangkok on Nov. 27, Thai immigration police were waiting to arrest him based on an Interpol "red notice" from Bahrain.

 

What followed was more than two months of diplomatic wrangling and intense scrutiny from global rights and sports organisations as they lobbied for Araibi's release from a prison in Bangkok, where he awaited possible extradition to the Gulf country.

 

Araibi fled Bahrain in 2014 after being accused of vandalism during the 2011 Arab Spring protests and sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison. He denies the charges and has lived as a refugee in Australia ever since.

 

The Middle East nation calls him a fugitive; Araibi said he would be tortured if he were sent back there.

 

"It was a big surprise when I arrived at Bangkok airport," Araibi told Reuters.

 

REFUGEE STATUS

Araibi had contacted Australia's Home Affairs department, the agency responsible for his refugee status, before his honeymoon and was assured that it was safe to travel, said Fatima Yazbek, a rights activist who has been in close touch with the couple.

 

Australian Home Affairs officials did not immediately comment.

 

But as the couple's flight took off from Melbourne, where Araibi plays for the Pascoe Vale football club, an Interpol notification went out alerting both Bahrain and Thailand of his movements.

 

Thai authorities say they acted on the alert from Interpol Australia and an extradition request hours later by Bahrain, which had put out the red notice weeks before on Nov. 8 - the same day the couple was granted Thai visas from the embassy in Australia.

 

"The authorities knew his seat number and had a copy of the (Bahraini) passport that he had when he was 16 years old," Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch, who was in contact with the couple, told Reuters.

 

It was not immediately clear why Araibi's refugee status, which should have prevented an Interpol red notice, was not flagged when the travel notification went out. Activist Yazbek says it was a lack of coordination among Australian agencies.

 

Australia's embassy in Bangkok said it was "not initially aware" that a red notice had been issued despite Araibi's status as a protected refugee.

 

"When the Australian Government became aware of the situation, we ensured the red notice was rescinded as soon as possible," the embassy said in a statement.

 

That took three days, during which Araibi remained detained. By Nov. 30, the Interpol red notice had been lifted and the footballer was told he could soon leave Bangkok.

 

But the delay proved costly. By the time the red notice was lifted, Bahraini authorities had contacted Thailand, asking for his detention and eventual extradition.

 

SHACKLES

Araibi was detained throughout the weeks-long process, which saw him appear in court on Feb. 4 with his bare feet in shackles as he begged authorities not to send him to Bahrain.

 

The case drew international criticism and a public campaign to free Araibi gained momentum, spearheaded in Australia by footballers and rights activists. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and officials from world soccer governing body FIFA joined calls for his release.

 

"The photos of footballer Hakeem in leg irons at the court prompted a huge, spontaneous upsurge of global revulsion in social media, making it quite clear to Thai policymakers that the global campaign would grow and intensify if they continued with the extradition process to Bahrain," Robertson said.

 

On Monday, the Thai attorney general's office suddenly said it was dropping the extradition case after Bahrain abandoned its request.

 

It was not clear when or why the Gulf kingdom changed its mind. The move came on the heels of a meeting between Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai and Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa on Sunday in Manama, though the agenda of that meeting was not disclosed.

 

Bahrain's foreign ministry said the 10-year jail sentence imposed on Araibi remained in place and reaffirmed its right to "pursue all necessary legal actions against him."

 

Within hours of Thailand's decision, Araibi boarded a plane back to Melbourne, where he was welcomed by hundreds of supporters on Tuesday.

 

Araibi said the trip to Thailand was the first time he and his wife, who is also Bahraini, had travelled out of Australia together. She does not face any legal issues in her home country and is a university student in Australia, he said.

 

Araibi told Reuters he did not plan to travel for a while after their ordeal.

 

"Now I am waiting for my Australian citizenship and I am not going to travel again until I get it," he said. "I also need the Australian government to ensure that I am not going to get arrested again if I travel abroad."

 

(Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY and Aziz El Yaakoubi in DUBAI; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

 

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-- © Copyright Reuters 2019-02-13

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Aussies welcoming back refugees. 😂 🤣 You are only welcome if you run behind a ball, Syrian brain surgeon please refrain of entering the country it is full. 

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1 hour ago, SammyT said:

Most refugees would have a better grasp of the English language than you, I'd imagine...

I still want to know how the Australian government gave him refugee status when his wanted in another country.

Is it because he plays soccer or his muslim.

 

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20 hours ago, webfact said:

Araibi had contacted Australia's Home Affairs department, the agency responsible for his refugee status, before his honeymoon and was assured that it was safe to travel,

Terrible on the AUS Authorities part.

 

I feel this has played out well for Thailand. As a Thai official went to Bahrain and then Bahrain dropped further pursuit of this guy.

 

20 hours ago, webfact said:

Within hours of Thailand's decision, Araibi boarded a plane back to Melbourne, where he was welcomed by hundreds of supporters on Tuesday.

Yay!

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Waiting for reports and comments on a kind of related subject about the schoolgirl from London who went to join ISIS and now wants to come back to UK as a refugee because she is pregnant.

On UK news now.

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Perhaps the Moron who stuffed-up at the Australian Embassy in BKK, should spend a few days in a Thai Prison and be Paraded in Shackles just to get a grasp on what his/her incompetency caused this bloke !

 

I’m sure all AUSSIE EXPATS here in Thailand feel as embarrassed as I do about the utter stupidity of “whoever” at our Embassy.

 

Having spent a lifetime in the Australian Media and even done a short stint working with Australian Immigration prior to full retirement, I can vouch for how dedicated and efficient OUR Immigration people are.

It is to be fervently hoped this incident is a “One Off” occurrence that will not reflect badly on my former colleagues at Australian Immigration.

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There have been many mistakes with so called refugees. Do a little research on psuedo Aussie passport holders involved in the ISIS holocaust, and the current Somali gang problems which the cops won't go near. Personally I hope he and his wife do Ok in Australia as a person/couple.

I also support the Oz Governments stance on illegal refugees. I also support turfing out of non naturalised people when they commit crimes. God help Australia if there is a change of Government in the near future, which is likely.

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Happy Honey Moon!  Hope others take this warning... Honey Moon somewhere else . Just joking.

Happy Valentine by the way..

Geezer

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Hmm, the Oz government really pushed to get this resolved. And yet with Julian Assange, another actual Aussie citizen, they are happy to hang him out to rot, the PM even laughed about it. Leaving the politics of it all aside, they are very selective in who they help, if it was a no one like most of us, what do you reckon the response would be? Crickets chirping?

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11 hours ago, Brislocal said:

I still want to know how the Australian government gave him refugee status when his wanted in another country.

Is it because he plays soccer or his muslim.

 

Because there was clear evidence that he was innocent? Off to the Tommy Robinson support pages you go...

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Look, this is just wrong. The way Australia treats legitimate refugees is appalling. They're not terrorists and they're not animals!

 

Australia turned Hakeem in. Either Australia, or the US via Interpol, made Thailand aware of his specific travel.

 

What a start to a marriage! Australia owes Hakeem bigtime compensation. $100K/day sounds right. Call it a dowry.

 

Will Australia 'fess up?

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As an Australian I have followed this case closely on TV.com and in other media. Of course I'm very happy with the outcome. 

I find the division of opinion on these matters disturbing, the hatred the intolerance and ignorance goes beyond acceptable opinion or freedom of speech, I am not singling out Thai visa posters as this is prevalent in society and is fuelled by the political agenda of those who stand to gain from division. 

To those who express opinion intolerant or hateful, against the humanitarian treatment of those whose countries are war torn or lacking in justice and human rights.

Please ask yourselves are your thoughts your own or are you simply chanting a mantra brought to us by the bureaucrats determined to keep us divided as division will not allow society to progress.

Think freely, be educated, question everything. Everything.

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