Refugee Footballer, Jailed In Thailand, Takes Overnight Flight to Freedom

Last Updated: Feb 12 2019 11:03
Reading time: 1 min, 9 secs

MELBOURNE: Hakeem al-Araibi made a triumphant return to Australia Tuesday, ending a two month ordeal that saw him jailed in Thailand and threatened with forced return to his native Bahrain.

"I want to thank Australia" said a smiling Araibi "this is my country."

"I don't have citizenship yet, but my country is Australia. I will die in Australia and I love Australia," he said.

Araibi was detained on November 27 while on honeymoon at the request of Bahraini authorities who accuse him of offences linked to the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison led celebration of Araibi's release, saying many Australians' prayers had been answered.

"Hakeem is coming home," he said in Canberra. "We have seen the picture of him on the plane, with a smile on his face, and that's great to see."

Morrison thanked the Thai authorities, who had earlier left his written appeals for Arabi's return unanswered but abruptly dropped extradition proceedings on Monday at Bahrain's request.

"We have been informed that Bahrain wants to withdraw the (extradition) request... if they don't want him, we have no reason to keep him here," Chatchom Akapin, a director-general in the Thai prosecutor's office, told AFP.

The international football governing body on Monday thanked Thailand in a statement for "doing the right thing" and said it hoped the athlete "will be able to resume his footballing career soon".