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«We Will Not Send Anyone to Die» – Really? Then Don’t Deport Refugee Footballer to Bahrain

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Nazvi Careem

Human rights activists are hoping the Thai government will adhere to its principle of “not sending anyone to die” by releasing Australia-based Bahrain footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, who remains in a Bangkok jail awaiting deportation while a Saudi Arabian asylum seeker is reportedly a step closer to freedom.

On Tuesday, 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun was said to have left Bangkok Airport under the protection of staff from UN refugee agency UNHCR. She fled Saudi Arabia but was prevented from reaching her intended destination, Australia, during a stopover in Bangkok.

She feared being deported back to the Middle East, where she said her family were ready to kill her... But media reports say she is now safe from being forced to return.

Thailand’s chief of immigration police Surachate Hakparn was quoted by the BBC as saying the country would “take care of her as best we can”, adding: “She is now under the sovereignty of Thailand; no one and no embassy can force her to go anywhere. Thailand is a land of smiles. We will not send anyone to die.”

“Great news that Thailand has allowed the UN to assess Rahaf rather than sending her back to the country from which she was seeking asylum. Thailand needs to allow Hakeem to return to Australia and stop Bahrain’s legal abuse,” tweeted Radha Stirling, the founder of Detained in Dubai – an organization committed to helping people they consider unfairly treated by the justice systems in the Middle East.

The 25-year-old al-Araibi fled Bahrain for Australia in 2014 seeking asylum and was given refugee status. In November, the player from Pascoe Vale soccer club in Melbourne travelled to Bangkok on his honeymoon but was arrested by Thai authorities on his arrival because of an extradition red notice from the Bahrain government.

The red notice was later said to be invalid but al-Araibi remains in jail more than six weeks since leaving Australia. In 2016, the former Bahrain national player publicly criticized the role of Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa – who is also a member of the Bahrain royal family – accusing him of playing a role in cracking down on the country’s athletes during the Arab spring.

Activists in Australia have since launched daily pleas to government and football authorities in Australia, Thailand and Bahrain – as well as FIFA and the AFC – calling for al-Araibi’s release under international human rights laws.

“We call on @UNHCRThailand to meet Hakeem who is detained in Thailand since 43 days and put max pressure on Thai government to prevent extraditing him to Bahrain,” said Yahya al-Hadid, an Australia-based activist for Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights who tweets the same message every day, only changing the number of days.

Former Australia soccer captain Craig Foster, one of the many personalities who have come together to lobby for al-Araibi’s freedom, wrote: “Wonderful for Rahaf. Work still to do for Hakeem. Needs to be impressed further on Thai Government the international condemnation that will follow from any decision to extradite him to Bahrain. World is watching.”

In response to Foster’s tweet, Stirling said: “Agree Craig. Interpol dropped their wrongful notice, Thailand should return Hakeem to Australia where he successfully sought asylum from Bahrain, thus confirming that he had something to flee from. Thailand must recognize importance of human rights treaties.”

Source: South China Morning Post, Edited by website team

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