Hakeem al-Araibi is expected to return to Melbourne today. Picture: AP/Sakchai Lalit
Hakeem al-Araibi is expected to return to Melbourne today. Picture: AP/Sakchai Lalit

Craig Foster’s explosive call to PM

FRESH from victory in the campaign to save refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, former Socceroos captain Craig Foster has issued an explosive call to Prime Minister Scott Morrison to overhaul how Australia treats refugees.

In a powerful open letter this morning, Mr Foster said the Australian government must implement "more humane" refugee policies.

He has also dubbed al-Araibi's case the start of a "fight for the soul of sport" while condemning the sports officials "willing to sacrifice the life of one player" while "occupying positions of influence and prestige".

It comes as al-Araibi is expected to touch down in Melbourne at 1pm today after being released from detention in Thailand last night.

The Australian soccer player spent almost two months in a Bangkok prison fighting extradition to Bahrain.

Mr Foster, who was instrumental in the campaign to 'save Hakeem', thanked Prime Minister Morrison, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and diplomat Allan McKinnon for their efforts to free al-Araibi this morning.

Now, I'm calling on Scott and Marise to commit to more humane policies for all the 'Hakeems' who come into Australia's care," he wrote.

"Our nation has a big heart, we saw just how big in the past few months, and we need to carry this compassion forward.

"Every person who we, Thailand, or any other country mistreat is one too many.

"Australia must do better than we have in recent years."

Mr Foster's comments come as Mr Morrison faces a historic defeat on a vote on medical transfers for asylum seekers as parliament resumes today for the first time in 2019.

The former Socceroos captain's letter noted that human rights were "apolitical" and that "compassion should never stop at party boundaries".

He called al-Araibi's release a "win for humanity" in his letter but was scathing of sports officials who seemingly wanted to look the other way.

"While delighted that Hakeem is free and will be with his wife today, we are just warming up because this was a fight for the soul of sport and, while a blow has been struck, a great battle lies ahead," Mr Foster wrote.

"First step was to save Hakeem's life, the next is to hold the game accountable to its response or lack thereof, to ensure all those in positions of governance that were willing to sacrifice the life of one player while occupying positions of influence and prestige, whether in football, the Olympic movement, or any other sport, are expunged."


Mr Morrison welcomed al-Araibi's release, saying: "He is on his way to the airport, the next step is for him to return home."

The Bangkok Post tweeted on Monday that he was expected to be on a Thai Airways flight arriving at 1.05pm on Tuesday.

He was seen chatting happily before boarding the flight that was due to leave shortly after midnight, Reuters reported.

An official from the Thai Attorney-General's office, Chatchom Akapin, said Bahrain had requested the case be dropped after it had sought his extradition.

al-Araibi was wanted by Bahrain after fleeing the country when he was charged with vandalising a police station in 2012. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail in absentia.

The Thai Foreign Ministry later refused to give details of why Bahrain asked for the case to be dropped. However, Bahrain state media reported that Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa spoke on the phone with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

But after al-Araibi's release, Bahrain's Foreign Ministry said in a statement the 10-year jail sentence remained in place and reaffirmed the country's right to "pursue all necessary legal actions against him". Mr Morrison thanked Thailand for releasing al-Araibi after intense lobbying from the Australian government, global human rights groups, sporting bodies and the public.

"We greatly appreciate their listening to the issues that have been raised by our government and many others who have raised this case," Mr Morrison said.

al-Araibi, 25, was detained at Bangkok airport on November 27 when he arrived in Thailand for his honeymoon with his wife.

The arrest was made after Bahrain issued an Interpol Red Notice for his detention on November 7. Australia came under fire for passing on the notice to Thai authorities before his arrival.

He had faced at least another two months in jail after a court in Bangkok last week set down his pre-trial extradition hearing for April 22. al-Araibi fled Bahrain in 2014 and was granted refugee status by Australia where he plays soccer for semi-professional Melbourne club Pascoe Vale.

Support for the young footballer's release was galvanised by Mr Foster with FIFA, the International Olympic Committee, and high-profile players calling for Thailand to free him.

"Many wonderful people stepped forward to help Hakeem," Mr Foster wrote on Twitter. "I can't list them, but will thank each of them in time. My thoughts are with Hakeem's wife. Her nightmare will shortly be at an end."

Football Federation Australia thanked Mr Foster as well as the Australian and Thai governments.

"The football family looks forward to welcoming Hakeem home and providing him with ongoing support after such a difficult period," chairman Chris Nikou said.

Sayed Ahmed al-Wadaei from the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said the decision was a huge victory for the human rights movement in Bahrain and the rest of the world.