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CRAIG FOSTER called for an investigation into Interpol today as attention quickly shifted to who is to blame for Hakeem al-Araibi’s predicament in Thailand.
Araibi touched down in Australia today to a hero’s welcome, a sign of how many people campaigned for his freedom after he spent three months detained in Bangkok.
Hours after the threat of extradition to Bahrain was lifted, the refugee footballer said “thanks to Australia” and that “it’s amazing to see all of the people here and all of the Australian people and all of the media who supported me.”
Former Australia national team captain Foster, who has been leading the campaign for Araibi’s release, was by the player’s side on his return.
But Foster questioned the role of Interpol after Thailand’s Foreign Ministry said last week that Araibi was detained because Australian authorities had forwarded them an Interpol Red Notice that Bahrain was seeking his arrest. Australian police acknowledged doing so, but there have been questions raised about why the Red Notice appeared to have been issued just before Araibi departed, and whether Bahraini authorities had been tipped off about his travel plans.
“This concept of countries using the Red Notice in order to try to refoul [force the return of] people that they want to return for nefarious reasons has now become a very serious issue and it is something that we’ll be taking up in the coming months,” Foster said.
Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said senators will quiz Australian bureaucrats at committee hearings next week about why the system had failed Araibi.
“I’d encourage the government to be upfront about this,” Wong said. “I think the Australian community does want to know how this occurred and we do need to consider whether the system is fit-for-purpose.”
Guy Goodwin-Gill, a University of New South Wales expert on international law, said both Australia and Interpol had mishandled al-Araibi’s case.
“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 have 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.”
Officials in Bahrain said the country “reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against” Araibi.
The return of Araibi closes the latest chapter of his jailing.
Araibi, a former Bahraini national team player, says he fled Bahrain due to political repression and that he fears torture if he returns.
He was detained at the request of Bahrain relayed through Interpol upon his arrival in Bangkok in November while on a honeymoon with his wife.
Thailand had come under great pressure from Australia’s government, sporting bodies and human rights groups to send Araibi back to Australia, where he has refugee status and plays semi-professional football.
“Something of this magnitude doesn’t happen without an incredible team behind, and there’s been an amazing coalition of people, right from around the world,” said Foster today.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who wrote twice to his Thai counterpart Prayuth Chan-ocha in a bid to secure al-Araibi’s freedom, thanked Australians as well as Thai authorities.
“I want to thank all Australians for their support in achieving this outcome,” Morrison tweeted.
“We are grateful to the Thai government and thank them for the way they have engaged with us to enable Hakeem to return to Australia,” he added.
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