SYDNEY – Hakeem al Araibi, the soccer player and refugee who spent two months in a Thai prison because of an extradition request from Bahrain, became on Tuesday an Australian citizen at a ceremony in Melbourne.
“I’m an Aussie now ... I feel safe,” Al Araibi, who lives in Australia since 2014 and received refugee status in 2017, told reporters, referring to the colloquial term that Australians use to allude to their nationality.
During the ceremony, Al Araibi was accompanied by the former captain of the Australian national soccer team, Craig Foster, who led an international campaign for the release of this semi-professional soccer player of Pascoe Vale in Melbourne.
“One very proud new Aussie who, after Australia demonstrated our values in fighting for his freedom, is deeply motivated to contribute to his new country,” Foster said on his Twitter account.
“We’re proud of you Hakeem, and delighted to welcome you on board,” Foster added, accompanying the message with an image of himself and Al Araibi holding the citizenship certificate.
Al Araibi received his citizenship at a ceremony in which more than 200 people from 44 countries were also recognized as Australian citizens and in which the foreign minister, Marise Payne, participated.
The soccer player was arrested on Nov. 27 at the airport in Bangkok, where he arrived to spend the honeymoon with his wife, following a red notice by Interpol requested from Bahrain, on which the Australian authorities informed their Thai counterparts.
The notice was withdrawn days later as it contravened regulations that a refugee’s country of origin cannot issue such notices. However, Thailand detained the player alleging that Bahrain had already requested his extradition.
Al Araibi was finally released on Feb. 11 and a day later he arrived back in Australia after the Thai public prosecutor withdrew the extradition request by Bahrain.
Al Araibi was arrested in Bahrain in 2012 and claims he was tortured and then later sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison on charges of vandalizing a police station during protests against the government. He denies the accusations since the alleged events occurred while he was playing a match with the national team of his country.