The Age: Soccer community demands action to bring Hakeem al-Araibi home

December 22,2018

Australia’s soccer community is demanding the federal government step up its fight to bring home a Melbourne-based refugee footballer as fears for his safety grow.

Hakeem al-Araibi, who was granted refugee status by Australia after he fled Bahrain, is being held in a Thai detention centre following an incorrectly-issued Interpol red notice flagging his arrival in Thailand.

Araibi’s supporters say the Pascoe Vale Football Club defender has a “very real chance” of being extradited to Bahrain, where he faces imprisonment and torture after being convicted in absentia for a crime he says he didn’t commit.

Members of Professional Footballers Australia, Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, Amnesty Australia, and former Socceroos captain Craig Foster and player Rodrigo Vargas, on Saturday called for Foreign Minister Marise Payne to visit Araibi, and for the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to expedite his citizenship approval.

If the Australian government was to grant Araibi Australian citizenship, it would potentially make it more politically difficult for Thailand to extradite him to Bahrain.

World soccer governing body FIFA has joined the fight to save Araibi from being extradited, but the Asian Football Confederation has so far remained silent.

Asian Football Confederation is headed by Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa, who was the former president of the Bahrain Football Association and a member of Bahrain’s ruling family.

After fleeing, Araibi spoke out against Sheikh Salman, accusing him of allowing the torture and imprisonment of members of the national team who supported the Arab Spring protests in 2011.

Foster called on Sheikh Salman to stand up for human rights or vacate the AFC presidency.

“I’m extremely concerned for Hakeem because we have to understand he’s become embroiled in something of a political web … and a life is at stake here,” Foster said.

“It’s one of the reasons why we’re being so vocal. We’re asking for the [AFC presidency] office to be upheld in the correct manner right now and if any president feels incapable of doing so, they should vacate the office and allow someone to carry out the duties of the office according to the expectation of the football community.”

It remains unclear how Bahrain learned Araibi was travelling to Thailand and had obtained a red notice, which is against Interpol guidelines that ban notices placed on refugees.

The Interpol red notice seeking his arrest was issued on November 8 this year, according to Fatima Yazbek of the Australia-based Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights.

“We urge that the Australian government work harder because there is much more to do. The Australian government granted him a protection visa and they have a moral, ethical and humanitarian duty to protect him. We hope that the foreign minister makes a bilateral visit immediately,” Ms Yazbek said.

Araibi’s coach at Pascoe Vale Football Club, Vitale Ferrante, described the 25-year-old as “humble, very respectful and very polite”.

“But on the training pitch he was just a winner,” Ferrante said. “He had this never-say-die attitude … going into the games. We finished the season strongly and he was a major part of that.”