Immigration

'I love you all': Hakeem Al-Araibi's wife thanks supporters ahead of his arrival in Melbourne

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The wife and family of Hakeem Al-Araibi are preparing to welcome him home in Melbourne after the footballer was released from a Thai prison.

The wife of freed refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi has thanked supporters as she expressed relief and jubilation over his imminent arrival in Melbourne. 

"My heart is now full with gratitude. I'm just so thankful. These are tears of relief and joy," she told SBS World News.

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Hakeem Al-Araibi leaves Thailand
Hakeem Al-Araibi leaves Thailand

"I'm especially grateful for all people who support Hakeem in the world; and I'm also grateful that finally this nightmare has ended."

She listed a roll call of people and groups involved in campaigning for her husband's release, thanking them "from the bottom of [her] heart". 

"Thank you all. You give me the support to be strong. I love you all and thank you from the bottom of my heart," she said.

"Well done all. We did it!

Bahrain insists conviction will remain

The Bahraini footballer has been detained in a Thai prison for 77 days based on an incorrect Interpol red notice initiated by Bahrain. 

Bahrain's government said it plans to "pursue all necessary legal actions against Mr al-Araibi" over 2012 vandalism charge arising from the Arab Spring protests.  Hakeem Al-Araibi has denied the charge. 

"The Kingdom of Bahrain reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against Mr al-Araibi," Bahrain's foreign ministry said.

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Hakeem Al-Araibi en route to Australia
Hakeem Al-Araibi en route to Australia

'Justice prevailed': Pascoe Vale FC celebrates release of their player

Australia's political leaders and supporters of the campaign to secure Hakeem Al-Araibi's release are continuing to rejoice after the footballer left a Thai prison and boarded a plane in Bangkok headed to Melbourne. 

On Monday evening, Thailand's Office of the Attorney General (OAG) asked the court to end the legal proceedings against Al-Araibi because Bahrain had dropped its extradition case.

He boarded a Thai Airways flight in Bangkok, which is due to arrive in Melbourne at 1.05pm. His family are among those in the welcome party waiting to greet him.

The semi-professional team he plays for in Melbourne, Pascoe Vale FC, also are waiting to welcome the footballer's return. 

The team said they can't wait for him to join players on the field later in the year. 

"Justice prevailed," the club tweeted.

Professional Footballers Australia chief executive John Didulica said the footballer's release is a triumph of people power and individuals in the football community. 

"Today's outcome underlines the strength and force of the football community, its members and unionists at large," he said.

Australia's political leaders welcome Hakeem's release

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he is grateful that the prayers of Australians have been answered with the release of the 25-year-old. 

"I want to thank all Australians for their support in achieveing this outcome. We are grateful to the Thai Government and thank them for the way they have engaged with us," he wrote in a message posted on Twitter. 

Earlier he spoke at a church service in Canberra with other federal politicians to mark the beginning of parliament for 2019.

"I give thanks for the answered prayers of so many Australians that Hakeem is coming home.

"The best news of all - Hakeem will be in Australia this afternoon and I think that's something we give great thanks for and give thanks for all the fine work that's been done by our officials and our Australians of the Year, everyone who has been involved, we thank them all very much."

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Bill Shorten on Hakeem returning home
Bill Shorten on Hakeem returning home

Opposition leader Bill Shorten also said he is celebrating with the Australian football community.

"This is the right outcome," he said.

"And I am very pleased for a local Melbourne boy. He will be able to come back and play soccer, and live safely in Australia. "

Great battle lies ahead: Craig Foster

Former Socceroos captain Craig Foster, who spearheaded the campaign to free the Bahraini footballer, said there needs to be a full audit of actions taken by officials heading football's world governing bodies.

"While delighted that Hakeem is free and will be with his wife today, we are just warming up because this was a fight for the soul of sport and, whilst a blow has been struct, a great battle lies ahead," he said in a statement posted on Twitter.

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Former Socceroo Craig Foster championed the push to free Hakeem Al-Araibi
Former Socceroo Craig Foster championed the push to free Hakeem Al-Araibi

[The] first step was to save Hakeem's life, the next is to hold the game accountable to its response or lack thereof, 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."

The Australian union movement also celebrated news of Hakeem's imminent arrival in Australia. 

“Like all Australians we are celebrating the return of Hakeem al-Araibi to his home, his wife and his club," said Michele O’Neil, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).

“Hakeem is an Australian union member who should never have been in prison...But the true heroes of this were ordinary people – football fans, players and union members – led by an extraordinary Australian, Craig Foster."

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