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Qunun warmed hearts, Araibi still in the cold

  • 11 January 2019


The world sat gripped last Monday as 18-year-old Saudi-national Rahaf al-Qunun live-tweeted her mad dash to freedom. From a barricaded room in a hotel at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport she told Twitter she was not going back to her family in Kuwait and no one could make her. The teenager said her family would torture her, even kill her, if she was forced to go back because she had abandoned her religion.

She claimed Saudi diplomats had confiscated her passport in the terminal and she was determined to meet with officials from the United Nations Refugee Agency. The world cheered when photos of her being escorted from the airport by UN workers emerged.

Hakeem al-Araibi has not been so lucky. The Bahraini soccer player has been living in Australia since 2014 after fleeing his home where he says the government tortured him. A former player for the Bahrain national side, he says he was jailed after publicly criticising Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa — a member of the Bahrain royal family — who he says orchestrated a crackdown on players during the Arab spring. He was given refugee status and a place in the Pascoe Vale soccer club.

Araibi's current nightmare is emblematic of the bureaucratic mess forced on refugees worldwide. Araibi flew into Bangkok in late November for his first holiday with his wife since 2014. He was immediately picked up by immigration authorities after his name was flagged for an Interpol red notice issued by Bahrain. That red notice has since been cancelled but he remains in Thai detention in limbo with officials possibly still set to extradite him.

While Australia has provided assistance via representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, their hands are somewhat tied given Araibi is not a citizen. Pushes from human rights lawyers and activists in Australia for him to be granted citizenship as a matter of urgency have fallen on deaf ears in Minister Peter Dutton's office.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne headed to Bangkok on Thursday to assist in the Qunan case and, she says, 'advocate' for Araibi while meeting with Thai officials. 'Mr Al-Araibi was granted permanent residency by the Australian government in recognition of his status as a refugee,' she clarified in a comments published by the Guardian. Accurate, but hardly the 'maximum pressure' supporters called for during a protest in Sydney.

It beggars belief that the Australian soccer community, which