Hakeem Al-Araibi is finally free, but why did this happen in the first place?


Now that Hakeem Al-Araibi is safely home, his supporters are asking, what went wrong?

Bahraini refugee and Australian permanent resident Hakeem Al-Araibi returned home to Melbourne on Tuesday, more than two months after he was arrested by Thai authorities.

But amid the celebrations, questions are now being raised about why he was detained in the first place and if his release could have been secured sooner.

How does a red notice work?

Thai authorities arrested Mr Al-Araibi on the basis of an Interpol red notice at Bahrain's request. The red notice was soon found to be invalid as the 25-year-old has been deemed a refugee.

According to former Australian Federal Police Interpol team leader and lecturer at the Australian National University Dr Adam Masters, the process which led to Mr Al-Araibi's arrest likely kicked off the moment he submitted his Thai visa application.

He said that when the application was submitted, Thailand would have contacted Bahrain - which was listed as Mr Al-Araibi’s country of birth - likely leading to Bahrain issuing the red notice.

Hakeem Al-Araibi at the Criminal Court in Bangkok.
Hakeem Al-Araibi at the Criminal Court in Bangkok.

“I don’t know whether the Bahraini authorities knew he was a refugee,” Dr Masters said.

Either way, once the red notice was received by Interpol, it was sent out to the police organisation’s 194 member countries.

But a new Interpol refugee policy, introduced in 2015, made it clear that a red notice could not be issued against a refugee from the country they initially fled.

It appears that in Mr Al-Araibi’s case, the notice was able to slip through as there was no clear information regarding his refugee status.

Scott Morrison on Hakeem Al-Araibi's release
Scott Morrison on Hakeem Al-Araibi's release

What about Australia’s role?

After Mr Al-Araibis' arrest, it was revealed the Australian Federal Police had alerted their Thai counterparts to the red notice prior to Mr Al-Araibi's arrival in Bangkok, despite his refugee status.

Dr Masters said the biggest issue in Mr Al-Araibi’s case was that there is no way to compare red notice databases with refugee information.

“The missing piece of the puzzle was the refugee status, that is where things fell apart," he said.

“No-where in any of this system is there a large global database, or a national database where you can do that data comparison, to say who’s a refugee, who’s on a red notice."

Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi
Refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi in Bangkok.

Guy S Goodwin-Gill, deputy director of UNSW’s Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, told SBS News, "what should have been flagged first and foremost here in Australia is this man is a recognised refugee with asylum in Australia".

"He has to be protected and therefore either his travel should not of been flagged or he should have been warned that there was a red notice against him and then steps could have been taken to have that red notice cancelled.

"We’re told that the referral of travel plans was automatic, well it shouldn't be automatic quite clearly, there should be some human intervention in the sense that someone needs to review the basis on which this red notice was issued and check whether the individual in question is a recognised refugee."

Hakeem Al-Araibi arrives in Melbourne.
Hakeem Al-Araibi arrives in Melbourne.

Will Australia review its practices?

Greens spokesperson for immigration and citizenship Senator Nick McKim told SBS News he would be pushing for an investigation into what went wrong.

"There’s been a lot said and done by both the Australian government and the Thai government in regards to how this happened. We need to get to the bottom of who said what to whom and when and what the level of knowledge was at the time and that is why we need an inquiry," the Tasmanian Senator told SBS News.

"We think Australian security agencies have got some really serious questions to answer here, specifically why it is that they effectively dobbed in Hakeem to the Thai authorities."

Supporters of Hakeem Al-Araibi wait for his arrival.
Supporters of Hakeem Al-Araibi wait for his arrival.

Meanwhile opposition spokesperson for foreign affairs Penny Wong questioned whether the AFP red notice system was "fit for purpose".

"Now he is back I think there are legitimate questions to be asked," she told the ABC.

"We do need to consider whether or not the automated red notice system is fit for purpose particularly when it comes to people who are found to be refugees."

But Dr Masters said Australian authorities were likely already looking into how Mr  Al-Araibi was arrested.

“Politically this is no good for any organisation, so they would already be reviewing their own practice," he said.

"I can just about guarantee you that this would not happen twice. This was a first for the bureau in Canberra, and they learn very quickly."

Could sporting bodies have done more?

In a statement ahead of Mr Al-Araibi’s arrival in Australia, former Socceroo Craig Foster said he wanted to acknowledge FIFA secretary-general, Fatma Samoura, who "escalated the response of the organisation following our urgent meeting in Zurich".

However, Foster went on to say that "much more could and should have been done, including public advocacy by the FIFA president and sporting sanctions".

"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.

"The first step was to save Hakeem’s life. The next is to hold the game accountable for its response – or lack thereof. We will work 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."

Should the red notice system be changed?

Speaking on Tuesday, Foster also pushed for a review of the red notice system internationally.

"We want to see an investigation into Interpol and the use of red notices ... this concept of countries using the red notice in order to try and get people that they want to return for nefarious reasons."


In the past 10 years, the number of red notices issued has skyrocketed. According to a report titled Dismantling the Tools of Oppression: Ending the Misuse of Interpol, 12,878 red notices were issues in 2016, compared to 2,804 in 2006.

Professor Goodwin-Gill said, “one should therefore assume that within that increase there is also a substantial number of politically motivated notices”.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch