'I love Australia': Hakeem Al-Araibi arrives back home after Thai prison ordeal


Refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi has arrived home in Melbourne where he received a hero's welcome from family, friends and supporters.

Refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi touched down in Melbourne on Tuesday after spending more than two months in a Bangkok prison.

Dozens of supporters were at Tullamarine Airport to meet him, holding signs and banners.

"I would like to say thanks to Australia. It's amazing to see all of the people here," Mr Al-Araibi told the crowd.

"This is my country ... I love Australia," he said.

An emotional Craig Foster, who had tirelessly campaigned for Mr Al-Araibi's cause, said: "I'm very proud of Australia".

"What's occurred over the last few months, to fight incredibly hard for not just a young player who virtually no-one knew, but a refugee who was under our protection ... speaks volumes about the character, the values and the pride that we have as Australians."

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

The 25-year-old was freed by Thai authorities on Monday afternoon when his birth country of Bahrain requested the case be dropped after it had sought his extradition.

"Australia is my country. I don't have citizenship yet, but my country is Australia ... I love Australia, I will die in Australia," he said after he disembarked from the Thai Airways flight. 

He thanked his supporters, who cheered: "Welcome home Hakeem!"

Mr Al-Araibi was wanted by Bahrain after fleeing the country after he was charged with vandalising a police station in 2012. He denies the charge.

Supporters greet refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi  at Melbourne airport.
Supporters greet refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi at Melbourne airport.

The Thai Foreign Ministry later refused to give details of why Bahrain asked for the case to be dropped. However, Bahrain state media reported on Sunday that Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa had spoken on the phone with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

But after Mr Al-Araibi's release, Bahrain's Foreign Ministry said the 10-year jail sentence remained in place and reaffirmed the country's right to "pursue all necessary legal actions against him".

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

Prime Minister Scott Morrison thanked Thailand for releasing Mr Al-Araibi after intense lobbying from the Australian government, global human rights groups, sporting bodies and the public.

"We know all Australians will deeply appreciate the decision, allowing him to return to his wife, family and friends," Mr Morrison said in a statement.

"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."

Mr Al-Araibi was detained at Bangkok airport on November 27 when he arrived with his wife for their honeymoon.

The arrest was made after Bahrain issued an Interpol Red Notice for his detention on November 7.

Mr Al-Araibi fled Bahrain in 2014, was granted refugee status by Australia and plays soccer for semi-professional Melbourne club Pascoe Vale.

His wife earlier issued a statement.

"My heart is now full of gratitude. Just so thankful that these tears are falling out of relief and joy," she said.

Additional reporting: AAP

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