ARTICLE

Hakeem al-Araibi: Australia pours cold water on citizenship bid for refugee footballer

Peter Dutton’s department says minister does not have power to automatically grant citizenship

The Department of Home Affairs has poured cold water on a pitch to have citizenship granted on Australian-based refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, in a bid to help free him from a Thai jail where he awaits deportation to Bahrain.

Lawyers for Al-Araibi, supported by the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (GIDHR), lodged an appeal with Peter Dutton this week, seeking his intervention on Al-Araibi’s case.

They argued giving Al-Araibi citizenship would bolster his chances of being returned to Australia instead of deported to Bahrain – the country he fled and was granted refugee status from.

“This request requires emergency government intervention and marks Australia’s stance on protecting legitimate refugees,” said lawyer Latifa al-Haouli.

“This is a matter of national interest, far exceeding the criteria of public interest used to assess ministerial interventions.”

However the Department of Home Affairs said on Wednesday the minister did not have the power to automatically grant citizenship.

“All persons applying for Australian citizenship must meet the legal requirements under the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 in order to be granted citizenship,” it said.

“Neither the minister, nor the department have the power to waive any of the legal requirements in the Australian Citizenship Act 2007.”

Al-Araibi’s supporters argue the act allows ministerial discretion.

“We urge the Australian government, especially the minister of home affairs, Mr Peter Dutton, to grant Hakeem al-Araibi the Australian citizenship attempting to save his life from the imminent danger he will face if deported to Bahrain,” said GIDHR spokeswoman Fatima Yazbek.

“Bahraini prisons lack the minimum standards of prisoners’ rights, and the political prisoners are suffering from miserable conditions and lack of their basic rights.”

Al-Araibi was arrested on arrival in Bangkok three weeks ago on an Interpol red notice which has since been withdrawn.

Questions remain about how Bahrain learned he was traveling to Thailand, how they were then able to obtain a red notice against Interpol guidelines banning notices against refugees, and why no flags were raised in Australia when its federal police force informed Thailand of his travel plans.

The Australian government has demanded his immediate return.

Bahraini refugee soccer player Hakeem Al-Araibi is escorted into the criminal court in Bangkok on 11 December.
Hakeem Al-Araibi is escorted into the criminal court in Bangkok on 11 December. Photograph: Diego Azubel/EPA

Al-Araibi has drawn vocal support from the footballing community in Australia and internationally, as well as from high-profile figures including the former Socceroos captains Craig Foster, Craig Moore, Alex Tobin and Paul Wade.

Al-Khalifa is a member of the royal Bahraini family, and was a target of public criticism by Al-Araibi in 2016 for failing to protect Bahraini athletes targeted for their or their families’ involvement in the failed Arab Spring uprising.

“We understand the circumstances … are well known to you, together with the details of the request from Bahrain for Mr Hakeem’s extradition,” the union wrote.

“The game cannot see any refugee footballer suffer harm under its watch. No issue is more important to football as a global and universal game than protecting vulnerable people such as refugee players from detention and torture.”

Senior executives of Football Federation Australia met with Al-Khalifa the day after Al-Araibi was detained, but say they did not know at the time. FFA has not said it has since reached out to him.

Foreign politicians have also voiced their support, either urging Thailand directly to return Al-Araibi to Australia or calling on their own governments to use diplomatic sway.

In the UK, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven publicly appealed to the British ambassador in Thailand to support Australia’s efforts.

“I am extremely concerned for Mr Al-Araibi’s welfare and am alarmed by the Thai authorities’ decision to detain and even consider his extradition when there is absolutely no legal basis,” Scriven wrote to the ambassador.

“I have raised the issue already in parliament by submitting a written question to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but would appreciate seeing some action on the ground.”

If he is deported, Al-Araibi’s plight has greater implications for the sanctity of refugee status internationally. The deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, told Guardian Australia last week if Thailand gives him to Bahrain it would mean no refugee could ever safely travel through Thailand.

As 2018 draws to a close….

… we’re asking readers to make an end of year or ongoing contribution in support of The Guardian’s independent journalism.

Three years ago we set out to make The Guardian sustainable by deepening our relationship with our readers. The same technologies that connected us with a global audience had also shifted advertising revenues away from news publishers. We decided to seek an approach that would allow us to keep our journalism open and accessible to everyone, regardless of where they live or what they can afford.

More than one million readers have now supported our independent, investigative journalism through contributions, membership or subscriptions, which has played such an important part in helping The Guardian overcome a perilous financial situation globally. We want to thank you for all of your support. But we have to maintain and build on that support for every year to come.

Sustained support from our readers enables us to continue pursuing difficult stories in challenging times of political upheaval, when factual reporting has never been more critical. The Guardian is editorially independent – our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our editor. No one steers our opinion. This is important because it enables us to give a voice to those less heard, challenge the powerful and hold them to account. Readers’ support means we can continue bringing The Guardian’s independent journalism to the world.

Please make an end of year contribution today to help us deliver the independent journalism the world needs for 2019 and beyond.

Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close