Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi becomes Australian citizen after being freed from Thai jail

Updated March 12, 2019 16:45:48

Footballer and refugee Hakeem al-Araibi can now call Australia home.

Key points:

  • Hakeem al-Araibi was detained in Thailand as Bahrain pursued his extradition
  • He returned to Melbourne last month to a hero’s welcome
  • He said becoming an Australian citizen made him feel “secure”

One month after being freed from a Thai prison where he was being held awaiting an extradition hearing, Mr al-Araibi has become an Australian citizen.

He took the oath at a citizenship ceremony in Melbourne, where he was joined by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and former Socceroo Craig Foster, who spearheaded a media campaign for his release from jail.

Mr al-Araibi, a Bahraini refugee, was wanted in his home country on vandalism charges, which he said were politically motivated.

He was detained for 76 days in Thailand at the request of Bahrain, following a tip-off from Interpol.

The “#SaveHakeem” campaign for his release started as a grassroots movement and grew from sporting groups to non-government organisations, unions and governments, as public pressure mounted in Australia, Thailand and around the world.

He plays semi-professionally for Melbourne’s Pascoe Vale Football Club and was greeted with cheers and singing when he walked through the arrivals area at Melbourne Airport a month ago.

‘Such a special day for Australia’

The Prime Minister congratulated Mr Foster and Senator Payne for the “tremendous work” they did to help secure Mr al-Araibi’s release.

“Today is just a stunning day for Australia, it is such a special day for Australia,” Mr Morrison said.

“Hakeem, Australians have just thrown their arms around you.”

He described Mr al-Araibi as “someone whose Australian values have always been deep in his heart”.

“And while you were away from us, as you know, they were just willing us on, and if they prayed, they prayed, and if they didn’t, they just urged,” he said.

“This is a tremendous day and we welcome you absolutely to the Australian family.”

Mr al-Araibi said in a tweet that he now felt safe.

“I am very grateful to you,” he wrote.

“No one can follow me now.

“It’s a wonderful and awesome feeling to gain all this respect in my citizenship ceremony.”

Mr Foster tweeted that Australia had “demonstrated our values in fighting for” Mr al-Araibi’s freedom.

“We’re proud of you Hakeem, and delighted to welcome you onboard,” he said.

Topics: community-and-society, refugees, multiculturalism, immigration, soccer, melbourne-3000, australia, bahrain

First posted March 12, 2019 16:01:00

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