Hakeem al-Araibi Welcomed With A Song As He Arrives Home In Melbourne
Hakeem al-Araibi has landed home, marking the end of a two-month ordeal in a Thai prison.
"I don't have citizenship yet, but my country is Australia," said refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi just after he landed. "I will die in Australia and I love Australia."
Walking out to cheering and singing supporters, he was embraced in a hug before stepping up to the mic and offering his thanks.
"I would like to say thanks to Australia. It's amazing to see all of the people here and all of the Australian people and all of the media who supported me," he told media and supporters.
"And I just wanted to thank the Australian Government, Australian people."
Turning to former Socceroos captain Craig Foster, the man who was instrumental in securing his release from prison, he said: "I want to thank this man and his fight so much for my case and I would like to thank him very much."
Al-Araibi expressed his deep love for Australia, thanking everyone who worked to bring him home.
"I thank the media and all of the human rights and thank you," he said.
"And I will be more strong for this country. I will be strong here, just for Australia. And Australia, this is my country. Australia, I didn't... I don't have citizenship yet, but my country is Australia.
"I will die in Australia and I love Australia. Thank you very much."
Foster said he was “very proud” to be an Australian, praising the efforts of everyone who helped bring al-Araibi home.
“I think what's occurred over the last almost three months, to fight incredibly hard for not just a young player who virtually no-one knew, but a refugee who was under our protection and who we felt that all of us needed to step forward and protect… to see him back here on home soil today speaks volumes about the character, the values and the pride that we have as Australians,” Foster said.
“Above all else, this is about a young man getting back to his wife. She hasn't seen him for nearly three months. He's been locked up in detention, unable to speak to her."
Dozens of supporters turned out to Melbourne's Tullamarine airport to welcome the refugee footballer home.
The refugee footballer was facing the possibility of being sent back to Bahrain -- where human rights activists said he would almost definitely be tortured -- after being arrested in Thailand while on his honeymoon.
After 70 days in prison, al-Araibi's release was secured following intense lobbying from the Australian government, global human rights groups, sporting bodies and the public.
He was seen "chatting happily" before boarding a Thai Airways flight shortly after midnight, Reuters reports.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted a photo of al-Araibi on the flight, thanking "all Australians for their support".
Foster earlier said al-Araibi's release was "a significant win for humanity".
Al-Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014 and has refugee status in Australia, spent two months in a Thai prison following an Interpol notice issued by the Bahrain government.
The footballer was accused of vandalising a police station in 2012, a charge al-Araibi has always denied. Despite evidence, he was playing in a televised football match during the time of the crime, he was sentenced to ten years in prison in absentia. Human rights activists said he could face torture if sent back to Bahrain.
Morrison thanked the Thai government for its decision to not pursue the extradition case, and said he appreciated the "constructive dialogue" with Bahrain.
"We greatly respect the process that [the Thai government] had to work through and we greatly appreciate their listening to the issues," Morrison said on Monday afternoon.
"Hakeem al-Araibi has left jail and is on his way to the airport. Now the next step is for him to return home. But as it always is in these cases, people aren't home until they're home."
'A Fight For The Soul Of Sport'
Al-Araibi's ordeal shone a light on the human rights violations committed against athletes around the world, Foster said.
While he acknowledged the work of FIFA Secretary-General Fatma Samoura for escalating FIFA's response, he called out the organisation for not doing more, and said anyone in positions of leadership across sport who didn't act to save al-Araib should be "expunged".
"Much more could and should have been done, however, including public advocacy by the FIFA President and the availability of sporting sanctions, and we will be calling for a full audit of actions taken by all officials to ensure that future responses are effective, timely and save lives and that every high official undertakes their maximum duty," he said.
"While delighted that Hakeem is free and will be with his wife today, we are just warming up because this was a fight for the soul of sport, and whilst a blow has been struck, a great battle lies ahead.
"First step was to save Hakeem's life, the next is to hold the game accountable to its response or lack thereof, to ensure all those in positions of governance that were willing to sacrifice the life of one player while occupying positions of influence and prestige, whether in football, the Olympic movement or any other sport, are expunged."
Bahrain Possibly Looking To Extradite Al-Araibi From Australia
Bahrain has hauled in Australia's ambassador after Hakeem al-Araibi, the Melbourne refugee footballer it wanted to extradite from Thailand, was put on a flight back home.
Foreign minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa gave Ambassador Ridwaan Jadwat, "relevant court documents" related to al-Araibi's extradition, including an international arrest warrant, the Kingdom of Bahrain said in a statement published on Tuesday.
It is unclear whether the kingdom is now asking Australia to extradite al-Araibi Bahrain.
The statement says in the part: "The aforementioned convictions are the legal basis on which the extradition request to Australian authorities was sought by the Ministry of Justice through diplomatic channels."
Clarification is being sought from the Australian government.
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