Asylum / Bahraini held in Thailand a ‘test’ for FIFA, says ex-Aussie captain

By: Agence France-Presse - Posted on: January 25, 2019 | Current Affairs

Supporters of Bahraini footballer Hakeem Alaraibi, currently being held by immigration authorities in Thailand, are following the tactics of a Saudi woman refugee who recently won asylum in Canada

Australian footballers and human rights groups have demanded intervention from the global football community and the Australian Government to ensure the safe return to Australia of footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi. Front middle, former Australian football captain Craig Foster holds a poster in support of Hakeem Al-Araibi Photo: David Crosling / EPA-EFE

Former Australia football captain Craig Foster said on Friday that a Bahraini refugee player held in Thailand is a “test” for Fifa, as rights groups try to duplicate the asylum success story of a Saudi woman who avoided deportation from the country.

Foster is in Bangkok helping with the fight to free Hakeem Alaraibi, who was granted refugee status in Australia after fleeing an Arab Spring crackdown only to be detained trying to holiday in Thailand in late November.

His case was brought into the spotlight earlier this month when a young Saudi woman named Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun avoided the same fate by barricading herself in a hotel room and tweeting pleas for help, securing asylum in Canada a week later.

Alaraibi, who played for Bahrain’s national side, is accusing of taking part in riots that damaged a police station. He says he was playing in a match at the time.

Rights groups say he faces a 10-year prison sentence if he is sent back.

He believes he is being targeted for vocally criticising and opposing the Fifa presidential candidacy of senior vice president Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.

Fifa’s secretary general Fatma Samoura wrote an open letter to Thailand’s junta leader, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, on Wednesday asking for Alaraibi to be allowed to return home.

But Foster told reporters in Bangkok that it is “not enough” and that Fifa may consider sports sanctions against football federations in Thailand and Bahrain.

“This is actually a seminal case to test the efficacy of the new human rights policy that Fifa has implemented,” Foster said at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Bangkok.

He visited Alaraibi in Bangkok Remand prison this week and said the footballer was in a “very low state psychologically”.

A 60-day detention period ends on 8 February, but Bahrain has yet to file a formal extradition request with the court, his lawyer said this week.

Foster, activists and Alaraibi’s football team in Melbourne, where he plays for the semi-professional Pascoe Vale, have all taken to social media to raise awareness, hoping that the same pressure built by al-Qunun could help.

They are using the #SaveHakeem hashtag after the #SaveRahaf campaign.

But Thailand’s immigration chief has said the two cases are different and that there was an arrest warrant for Alaraibi.

© Agence France-Presse