Immigration

Push for inquiry into Australia's role in Hakeem Al-Araibi's arrest

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Politicians are calling for answers as to why Hakeem Al-Araibi was arrested in the first place.

After 77 days in a Thai jail, Bahraini refugee Hakeem Al-Araibi is home, having arrived back on Australian soil amid calls for an inquiry into Australia’s involvement in his arrest.

Greens spokesperson for immigration and citizenship Nick McKim told SBS News he would be pushing for an investigation into what went wrong, while opposition spokesperson for foreign affairs Penny Wong questioned whether the current Australian Federal Police (AFP) red notice system was "fit for purpose".

Image of Hakeem Al-araibi at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport as he leaves Thailand
Hakeem Al-Araibi at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport as he leaves Thailand.
AAP via SBS News

The Bahraini footballer and Australian permanent resident was arrested entering Thailand on November 27.

The arrest had been triggered by an Interpol red notice requested by Bahrain, which was later found to be invalid due to Mr Al-Araibi's refugee status. The notice cited Mr Al-Araibi's alleged involvement in vandalising a police station in 2012. 

It was later revealed that 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. 

"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," Mr McKim 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."

'Fit for purpose?': Labor says red notice system raises questions

Opposition spokesperson for foreign affairs Penny Wong echoed the need for answers and said she would pursue the matter during budget estimates hearings in Canberra next week.

"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 according to a former AFP Interpol team leader, internal reviews of the system would already be underway.

Penny Wong has questions about Australia's involvement in the detention of a refugee in Thailand.
Penny Wong has questions about Australia's involvement in the detention of a refugee in Thailand.
AAP

"Politically this is no good for any organisation, so they would already be reviewing their own practices," Dr Adam Masters told SBS News. 

"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."

Lack of international refugee database a problem: expert

Dr Masters explained that behind the scenes, the fast-paced developments on the red notice and a lack of an international or national refugee database meant that the error was not picked up by Australian authorities prior to notifying Thailand.

"In the majority of incidents, these are long term cases, where things are monitored, where all the government agencies are aware and they’ve all exchanged information. This is one that was quite literally brand new. It was only a couple of days old," he said. 

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

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

On Monday night, an official from the Thai attorney general’s office announced that Bahrain had requested that Hakeem Al-Araibi’s case be dropped after it had sought his extradition - but said in a statement that “Bahrain reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions” against Mr Al-Araibi. 

At this point, it is unclear why Bahrain requested the case be dropped, but local media has reported that Bahraini Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had discussed the matter during a phone call. 

Interpol's refugee policy states that a red notice will not be valid if the notice is requested by a country where the individual fears persecution. 

The office of the Minister for Home Affairs has been contacted for comment.

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