Australia

Refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi 'very close' to becoming Australian citizen

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Refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi has met with the prime minister and politicians at Parliament House in Canberra after participating in a friendly game of football to celebrate his release from a Thai prison.

Days after returning from a Thai prison, refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi has been assured by the government he is set to become an Australian citizen soon. 

The former Bahraini citizen met Prime Minister Scott Morrison and thanked him for intervening in his case after he was arrested in Thailand on a wrongly-issued Interpol red notice and held in jail for more than two months. 

Footballer and refugee Hakeem Al-Araibi (left) is welcomed by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a meeting at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, February 14, 2019. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING
Footballer and refugee Hakeem Al-Araibi is welcomed to Parliament House by PM Scott Morrison.
AAP

"We are so pleased you are here now and that you can come and live your life here in Australia."

Mr Morrison told the 25-year-old he hoped to see him at an Australian citizenship ceremony soon.

"I don't think it's too far away," he said. 

Foreign Minister Marise Payne also told Mr Al-Araibi that he and his wife would be Australians "very soon".

Labor MP Andrew Giles, who represents the Victorian electorate of Scullin where Mr Al-Araibi lives, said he would write to the government about granting him citizenship.

"I've got a letter to give to the immigration minister on your behalf," Mr Giles told Mr Al-Araibi in Canberra. 

Mr Al-Araibi has lived in Australia for five years and was granted refugee status after a three year process. 

In December, lawyers for Mr-Alraibi applied to the Home Affairs Minister to urgently grant him citizenship to improve his chances of release. 

However, a spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs said at the time that the request had been denied citing legal requirements that all applicants must meet.  

The latest data shows some applicants wait up to two years to have their Australian citizenship applications processed. 

'Every refugee is a Hakeem' 

Earlier, former Socceroo Craig Foster urged Australian politicians to learn the lessons from Hakeem Al-Araibi's case as the refugee footballer meets with the major party leaders in Canberra on Thursday. 

Al-Araibi visited Parliament House for a friendly game played by politicians from all sides to celebrate his return from a Thai prison.

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Politicians host football match for refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi at Parliament House
Politicians host football match for refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi at Parliament House

The 25-year-old was arrested in Thailand on a wrongly-issued Interpol red notice and held in jail for more than two months.

Foster, who helped lead the campaign to free Al-Araibi, joined the refugee footballer on Parliament House's football field, along with former Matildas co-captain Kate Gill.

Foster thanked politicians from all sides who helped to free Al-Araibi and urged them to continue to put politics aside to help other vulnerable people, particularly refugees. 

"There’s many Hakeems here and around the world who deserve our help and we need to put among other things politics aside and make sure we just do the best thing for them."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten met Hakeem Al-Araibi  on the sidelines of the Parliament House football field.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten met Hakeem Al-Araibi on the sidelines of the Parliament House football field.
SBS News

Foster, who worked with veteran broadcaster Les Murray, a Hungarian refugee, said refugees needed better treatment.

"To me every refugee is a Les Murray, every refugee is a Hakeem Al-Araibi, they’re all human beings."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten met Al-Araibi at half time in the match, before later meeting with the prime minister at Parliament House. 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right) gets footballer and refugee Hakeem al-Araibi to sign a ball during a meeting at Parliament House.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right) gets footballer and refugee Hakeem al-Araibi to sign a ball during a meeting at Parliament House.
AAP

Inquiry blocked

The former Bahraini citizen arrived in Canberra a day after the Greens' bid to establish a parliamentary inquiry into his detention failed to pass the Senate.

Labor and the Coalition teamed up to block a motion, which would have looked at the role of federal departments and the Australian Federal Police in the football player getting locked up for two months in Bangkok.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne presented Hakeem Al-Araibi with a #savehakeem T-shirt.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne presented Hakeem Al-Araibi with a #savehakeem T-shirt.
SBS News

"We can't look past the fact he was detained in Thailand and spent months locked up fearing for his very life and this was clearly because of decisions and mistakes made by Australian government agencies," Greens senator Nick McKim told parliament on Wednesday.

"Australian authorities failed him and that failure could have cost him his life."

Liberal frontbencher Anne Ruston said there was no need for a parliamentary inquiry, while Labor is expected to pursue the issue at Senate estimates next week.

"This issue is the subject of a review by the department of home affairs and the relevant agencies," Senator Ruston said.

Al-Araibi and his wife were honeymooning in Bangkok when he was arrested last November at the request of his birth country Bahrain, seeking his extradition.

He was wanted after fleeing the country when charged with vandalising a police station in 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in jail in absentia, a crime he denies.

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Hakeem Al-Araibi receives a hero's welcome landing in Australia
Hakeem Al-Araibi receives a hero's welcome landing in Australia

Additional reporting: AAP

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