Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi arrives home: 'I want to thank all of Australia'


Refugee soccer player Hakeem al-Araibi has declared his love for Australia and thanked the public for their support after arriving home to rapturous scenes at Melbourne's airport.

"I want to thank all of Australia. Australia is my home," Araibi said moments after stepping off a plane.

A crowd of about 100 supporters and friends gathered at Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport on Tuesday afternoon to welcome Araibi who had been held in a jail in Thailand since November 27, 2018. He was arrested while on his honeymoon.

Araibi emerged from the airport with former Socceroos captain Craig Foster who led a high-profile media campaign pushing for his release.

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The soccer player was released by Thai authorities on Monday evening when Bahrain, his country of birth, requested the Thai attorney-general's office drop a case against him.

An Interpol red notice had been issued for Araibi's detention by Bahrain, but the notice should never have been issued as refugees cannot be returned to the country from which they have fled.

Hakeem al-Araibi is greeted by friends and supporters as he arrives in Melbourne.
JOE ARMAO/SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
Hakeem al-Araibi is greeted by friends and supporters as he arrives in Melbourne.

Araibi fled to Australia in 2014, was granted refugee status in 2017 and plays for Pascoe Vale Football Club in Melbourne.

A jubilant Hakeem al-Araibi walks out of Melbourne Airport alongside former Socceroos captain Craig Foster.
JOE ARMAO/SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
A jubilant Hakeem al-Araibi walks out of Melbourne Airport alongside former Socceroos captain Craig Foster.

Foster, whose advocacy was crucial in the international debate over Araibi's fate, praised the government on Monday for applying diplomatic pressure but said Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne should keep "all the Hakeems" in Australia.

"I'm calling on Scott and Marise to commit to more humane policies for all the Hakeems who come into Australia's care," he said.

Shadow foreign minister Penny Wong has said she will ask the government how Araibi ended up in a Thai prison for almost 80 days, with questions centring on how the country Araibi fled from knew he was out of Australia.

"There are questions that do need to be answered about how this occurred and the process by which it occurred," Senator Wong said.

Bahraini Hakeem al-Araibi flew home to Australia on Monday.
Sakchai Lalit
Bahraini Hakeem al-Araibi flew home to Australia on Monday.

"One of the key issues is the automated Interpol red notice service."

Sydney Morning Herald