Refugee Footballer Hakeem al-Araibi Has Declared His Love For Australia Upon His Return

Moving moment


12 February 2019

Article heading image for Refugee Footballer Hakeem al-Araibi Has Declared His Love For Australia Upon His Return

AAP

Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi has declared his love for Australia after touching down in Melbourne following his detainment in Thailand.

The 25-year-old appeared overcome by a throng of media and supporters as he emerged from the international arrival hall on Tuesday.

"Australia is my country," al-Araibi said in broken English.

"I love Australia."

The soccer player thanked the Australian government, media and his supporters for their support, before being ushered through the crowd.

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Al-Araibi was freed by Thai authorities on Monday afternoon after his home country of Bahrain requested the case be dropped after it had sought his extradition.

Al-Araibi was wanted by Bahrain after fleeing the country when he was charged with vandalising a police station in 2012. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail in absentia.

The Thai Foreign Ministry later declined to give details of why Bahrain asked for the case to be dropped. However, Bahrain state media reported on Sunday that Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa had spoken on the phone with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

But after al-Araibi's release, Bahrain's Foreign Ministry said the 10-year jail sentence remained in place and reaffirmed the country's right to "pursue all necessary legal actions against him".

Prime Minister Scott Morrison thanked Thailand for releasing al-Araibi after intense lobbying from the Australian government, global human rights groups, sporting bodies and the public.

Al-Araibi was detained at Bangkok airport on November 27 when he arrived with his wife for their honeymoon.

The arrest was made after Bahrain issued an Interpol Red Notice for his detention on November 7. Australia came under fire for passing on the notice to Thai authorities before his arrival.

He was facing the prospect of at least another two months in jail after a court in Bangkok last week set down his pre-trial extradition hearing for April 22.

Al-Araibi fled Bahrain in 2014, was granted refugee status by Australia and plays soccer for semi-professional Melbourne club Pascoe Vale.

His wife has not seen him for some three months, after the pair headed to Thailand for their honeymoon.

In a statement issued earlier she also offered thanks.

"My heart is now full with gratitude. Just so thankful that these tears are falling out of relief and joy," she said in a statement, posted online by his team, Pascoe Vale Football Club.

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