Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi successfully reached Australia on Tuesday, after he was released by Thailand authorities on Monday. The former Bahraini international was imprisoned in Thailand and was threatened by the authorities with a forced return to his native country.
Upon his arrival back in Australia, where he has been officially granted the refugee status, he was welcomed by a huge number of followers who had gathered with #SAVEHAKEEM T-shirts, news agency AFP reported. The supporters sang the football anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at Melbourne airport after Araibi’s overnight Thai Airways flight 465 landed.
Speaking to his supporters, he said, “I want to thank Australia. This is my country. I don’t have citizenship yet, but my country is Australia. I will die in Australia and I love Australia,” he said.
Earlier, on Monday, Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison led celebrations of Araibi’s release and said that the prayers of thousands of Australians’ have been answered. “Hakeem is coming home. We have seen the picture of him on the plane, with a smile on his face, and that’s great to see,” he had said.
Araibi was arrested on November 27 while he was on honeymoon in Thailand, on the request of Bahraini authorities, who had accused him of offences related to the 2011 Arab uprisings in the country.
The detention sparked a worldwide criticism causing a diplomatic dispute between Bahrain, Thailand, and Australia. Araibi, while being detained, expressed fear that he would be tortured and killed in case he returned to his native country, while the supporters continue to allege that his prosecution was politically motivated.