“I have to be strong, I miss my wife, I love her, two years ago we were married. She came to Australia because of me.
“I want to have a family. I am thinking about my wife all the time. I want children, we want children, I am 25 now, maybe when I am 28.
“Please Australia, keep fighting for me. I pay taxes, I play football, I love Australia. Please don’t let them send me back to Bahrain.”
Araibi plays semi-professional soccer for the Pascoe Vale Football Club in Melbourne.
The Australian soccer community, led by former Socceroo Craig Foster, has rallied behind Araibi. The International Olympic Committee and FIFA have also rallied to Araibi’s cause, supporting his quest to be released and returned to Australia.
During the short interview, conducted through prison bars in a crowded visitors room, Araibi spoke movingly about his life in Australia.
“I live in Bundoora, it’s a very nice place. I miss it, we work near there. I miss Bundoora, I miss Pascoe Vale Football Club, I miss my club, my boys,” he said.
“I miss the sky, I miss the weather, I miss Melbourne, I miss the restaurants. I am losing hope but I have to stay strong because so many people are fighting for me.”
Araibi was detained by Thai authorities on November 27 after Australian authorities controversially informed their Thai counterparts the refugee footballer was travelling to Thailand and was subject to an Interpol Red Notice.
This occurred despite Araibi checking with Australian authorities before he left the country that he would face no legal risks by leaving the country that had granted him asylum.
A Red Notice is a form of international arrest warrant and refugees such Araibi are not supposed to be subject to them when they are issued by the country from which they have fled.
The notice was subsequently dropped, but Araibi’s nightmare has continued: Bahrain has sought his extradition from Thailand, and has until February 8 to submit its extradition request to the Thai legal system.
Late on Monday evening, Reuters reported that Bahrain had finally submitted the paper work required to facilitate Araibi’s extradition, citing a source familiar with the case. That means the case could be heard again by a Thai court shortly.
Araibi says he was tortured by authorities in Bahrain in 2012. He fled the country in 2014 and Australia has recognised him as a refugee and granted permanent residency. The footballer fears he will be tortured and jailed if he is returned to Bahrain.
Bahrain, in turn, has accused him of vandalising a police station – for which he received a 10-year sentence in absentia.
Araibi has denied that charge, arguing he was playing in a soccer match for his team Al-Shabab, which was broadcast on live TV at the time of the alleged incident.
In 2016, Araibi, a Shia Muslim, accused Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, a Sunni Muslim who is the president of the Asian Football Confederation and a member of Bahrain’s royal family, of discriminating against Shia.
Araibi said he believed the other reason Bahrain was seeking his extradition was because of his public criticism of Salman, which came as Salman was bidding to be FIFA president – a bid he lost.
Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network program coordinator Evan Jones, who regularly visits Araibi in jail, said it was clear Araibi was “petrified of being sent back to Bahrain”.
“Hakeem’s case couldn’t be more clear. With just over a week until the official extradition request is due [Bahrain has 60 days to submit its request by February 8], there is absolutely no time to waste. He is a refugee and must be afforded the protection he deserves. It is the Thai government’s responsibility to protect his rights and to return Hakeem to Melbourne immediately.”
James Massola is south-east Asia correspondent, based in Jakarta. He was previously chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in Canberra. He has been a Walkley and Quills finalist on three occasions.
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