Hakeem al-Araibi arrives home in Australia to a crowd of support

After being locked up for nearly three months, the refugee’s return saw touching scenes

Pascoe Vale footballer Hakeem al-Arabi has finally returned home to Australia after being locked up in a Thailand prison for the past 77 days.

The 25-year-old’s Thai Airways flight touched down at Melbourne Airport on Tuesday afternoon, with hundreds of supporters waiting at the Tullamarine terminal.

Among the large crowd for al-Arabi’s arrival were his family, #SaveHakeem campaign leader Craig Foster and members of his Pascoe Vale team.

Al-Araibi briefly addressed his supporters and media on arrival in Melbourne, giving thanks to everyone who fought for his release.

“I would like to say thanks to Australia. It’s amazing to see all of the people here and all of the Australian people and all of the media who supported me,” al-Araibi said.

“And I just wanted to thank the Australian Government … I want to thank this man [Craig Foster] and his fight for my case … I would like to thank him very much.

“I will be more strong for my country. I will be strong here, just for Australia. And Australia, this is my country.

“I don’t have citizenship yet, but my country is Australia. I will die in Australia and I love Australia. Thank you very much.”

Al-Araibi was arrested by Thai authorities while on a honeymoon with his wife in Bangkok on November 27 last year through an Interpol notice that was distributed against the organisation’s own policies to not flag against refugees from the country they have fled.

Bahrain was keen to extradite Al-Araibi to serve a decade-long jail term for allegedly vandalising a police station – a crime the refugee says he did not commit as he was playing in a televised football match when the offence occurred.

Al-Araibi alleges he was tortured by Bahraini authorities to obtain a confession for the crime – for which his brother is still currently in prison.

He fled Bahrain while playing for the national team in Qatar in 2013 before making his way to Australia via Iran, Malaysia and Thailand, and seeking asylum in 2014.

Australia officially granted al-Araibi refugee status in 2017.

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