Hakeem Al-Araibi
Hakeem Al-Araibi being escorted from a courthouse in Bangkok (Image: AP/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Hakeem Al-Araibi, the 25-year-old soccer player from Mebourne’s Pascoe Vale team will arrive home to Melbourne just after 1pm today.

Since his release from a Bangkok prison was announced around 7pm Monday, there has been an enormous sense of relief for his wife and family and from activists involved in lobbying for his release.

This has been a roller coaster of a story to report because of the obvious jeopardy Al-Araibi faced if he were to be returned to Bahrain. Also in play are the vast swathe of questions still unanswered from various Australian government departments, Interpol and, most recently, Prime Minister Scott Morrison about how Hakeem’s arrest ever happened in the first place.

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Bahrain’s extradition efforts via the misuse of Interpol’s red flag notice system have raised yet other questions about its willingness to pursue nationals beyond its borders. Are Australians living with protection visas safe to travel to countries like Thailand?

The UK doesn’t think so. Toby Cadman, a British barrister and expert on Bahrain told Crikey that he understood United Kingdom officials had been informally warning Bahrainis with refugee status not to travel to Thailand. 

Compare this conduct to an interview Morrison did with Alan Jones on 2GB  a week ago in which he referred to people who have been granted permanent protection visas (like Al-Araibi). “Please don’t go to countries where you can put yourself at risk in these situations,” he said. 

Al-Araibi’s wife and friends have repeatedly stated that Al-Araibi had asked authorities in Australia if he would be safe to travel to Thailand and was told he would be. The messages are confusing. Morrison’s “stay safe” blurt on Jones’ show seems a bit late, coming some 68 days after Al-Araibi’s arrest in Thailand. The information is perplexing given there were no formal or informal travel warnings in place when Al-Araibi enquired.

Crikey asked the PM’s office for answers about his statement last week. We wanted to know:

  1. Is it correct that, as of November 2018, there was no explicit travel warning in place for someone like Hakeem Al-Araibi — a Bahraini national with a protection visa and refugee status residing in Australia travelling to Thailand for a holiday?
  2. Regarding the PM’s statement on 2GB about people with protection visas not putting themselves at risk, can you clarify if there is now a formal travel warning in place for Bahraini’s granted protection visas and refugee status in Australia travelling to Thailand?
  3. Considering Hakeem Al-Araibi contacted Australian government officials to establish it was safe for him to travel, what further steps do you suggest he should or could have taken ?
  4. What advice do you have for refugees residing in Australia with protection visas who are wanting to travel internationally and are looking to establish if they are safe to do so?

No one from the PM’s office responded to our questions. Instead a spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs issued the following:

Permanent protection visa holders are required to seek approval in writing from the Department of Home Affairs to enter the country from which they have been found to engage Australia’s protection obligations. They do not need approval to travel to any other country.

So Home Affairs says Al-Araibi did not need approval to go to Thailand while the PM says “please don’t go to countries where you put yourself at risk”. Meanwhile, no one within Australian authorities warned Al-Araibi that he would be at risk in Thailand. 

Cadman pointed out that while everyone is talking about the Thai authorities releasing Al-Araibi, the point is missed that the Bahrainis withdrew the extradition request so there was no proper basis to continue to detain him. As Cadman says, “the suggestion that the Thai authorities applied the law is ludicrous and demonstrates that if informal warnings were given to Bahraini activists, they were entirely justified”.

While Al-Araibi is safe, there is little assurance for other refugees in Australia that systems are in place to warn them, formally or informally, about how to travel safely outside of Australia.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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