Refugee footballer freed by Thailand returns to Australia

Wanderers Thai Airways

Morrison thanked the Thai authorities, who had earlier left his written appeals for Araibi's return unanswered, but abruptly dropped extradition proceedings on Monday at Bahrain's request. "I love Australia, I will die in Australia".

Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi made a triumphant return to Australia on Tuesday, ending a two month ordeal that saw him jailed in Thailand and threatened with forced return to his native Bahrain.

"I want to thank Australia", said a smiling Araibi, adding that "this is my country".

His return to Melbourne caps off a high-profile campaign for his release from Thai detention, and ushers in a period of intense scrutiny on the human rights obligations of both Australia and Bahrain. "It's wonderful to see all of the people here and all of the Australian people and all of the media who supported me".

A former Bahraini national team player, Al-Araibi said he fled the country due to political repression and feared torture if he returned.

Thai prosecutors withdrew the case against Al-Araibi after Thailand's foreign ministry sent their department a letter indicating that Bahrain had withdrawn its extradition request.

"(Bahrain) reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against [Araibi]", the statement said.

He wore the playing shirt of Pascoe Vale, the semi-professional team he plays for in Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city. He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active in Bahrain.

"The outpouring of support - from the Pascoe Vale Football Club, to the advocacy of Craig Foster and the Football Federation of Australia and so many others - is a testament to how deeply Mr Al-Araibi's situation touched Australians".

"My thanks go to the wonderful people of Thailand for your support and to the Thai (government) for upholding global law", Foster posted on Twitter.

"They should think about giving him one minute (on Thursday) but I hope not because next Friday will be a home game", he said.

"I would like to say thanks to Australia".

There are many issues pertaining to al-Araibi's detention to sort out, not least of which was how Bahrain was aware of al-Araibi's travel plans - and what involvement Australia had in that process. Her nightmare will shortly be at an end.

Araibi was detained on Nov 27, 2018 while on honeymoon at the request of Bahraini authorities who accuse him of offences linked to the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

The reversal came a day after Thailand's foreign minister met with Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa in Manama to "discuss. areas of interest", according to Bahrain's state-run news agency. "But Al-Araibi's case has also spotlighted gaps in FIFA's system of human rights protections, and the need to ensure that human rights policies and practices are fully implemented". Again, no specifics were provided.

Thailand's foreign ministry said last week that Al-Araibi was detained because Australian authorities had forwarded them an Interpol Red Notice that Bahrain was seeking his arrest.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison twice wrote to his Thai counterpart to urge the release of Araibi, while Foreign Minister Marise Payne travelled to Bangkok to personally press for the refugee's release.

"What we would like to do tonight is to thank and show our appreciation to the Thai government for the decision that they have taken today", he said Monday.

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