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Hakeem Al Araibi: From A National Hero to an Immigrant

Hakeem Al Araibi's journey from a top footballer to a wanted criminal, The infamous interview.

Last updated: 18.02.2019
Hakeem Al Araibi: With the immigration officer

The world saw one of the most controversial occurrences in the history of the game and its ecosystem. Hakeem Al-Araibi, a boy from Bahrain, ended 77-day prison ordeal on Tuesday. The former Bahraini international footballer flew from Thailand to Australia, where he holds the refugee status.

Like a mother’s pride is her child, a person’s badge is his motherland. You grew up in an environment speaking your native language, socializing with your own people. As you grow up, you start making your voice heard. It becomes a dream to serve one’s country in whatever means be it. The sense of patriotism for your native land is indescribable. The bid was to change Bahrain into a democratic country in 2011. But, Hakeem got inflicted with a major curse. His own homeland deserted him and wanted to lock him up and his footballing career due to several political reasons.

The 25-year-old central defender got abandoned by his own country due to severe political conflicts since 2011. He somehow fleed to Australia to survive from the then imposed torment. But, back in his home, more than 150 sportspeople have suffered major ill-treatment due to the movement.

His country of origin, Bahrain, had sentenced him to 10 years of imprisonment during a 2014 trial on vandalism charges. The charges were of demolishing a police station taking back to the ill-fated Arab spring. But, on the other side of the coin, Hakeem was not a part of the sorry event. Rather, he was playing a televised football match for his club. He was not only arrested, but he was also tortured and beaten up during November 2012 during the riots. He somehow flew to Australia when he was at bail.

Little did Hakeem know, fate would not be turned on his favour even after migrating to the land of Kangaroos. A person’s marriage is deemed as bonding of love, a new start to life in all prosperity. Al-Araibi planned a trip to Thailand with his newly wedded wife. He wanted to celebrate his late anniversary in the Land of Smiles. Although, agonizingly the trip failed to be plain sailing. The Bahraini government issued an erroneous Interpol “red notice”- an international arrest warrant to capture Hakeem in the Southeast Asian country and extradite him.

Reports suggest the Bahraini government targeted the lad for a specific reason. Back in 2016, in an interview, Hakeem spoke to a German TV channel named ARD. He claimed, Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president and Bahraini national Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa was unfit for the presidency run of FIFA. Salman lost on a narrow margin against the current FIFA President, Gianni Infantino. Many diplomats said Hakeem’s controversial statement is one of the many reasons for the issue of the red notice. But, according to the international laws, a refugee to another country is not subjected to the “red notice” by his native land. It was completely up to the Thai government now - whether to send him back to Australia or to hand him over to the Island of Pearls where he would have counted his last days of survival.

Since the matter received massive international importance, FIFA pleaded to the Thai government about the release of Hakeem. Also, Al-Araibi got the backing of the Australian government. One of the several names to mention in this wrenched journey is Craig Foster, former Australian football team captain. Craig is one of the most salient driving forces of Hakeem’s rescue.  Fearing for his life, he flew to Australia, where he issued the refugee status in 2017. Later, miraculously, the land of Kangaroos turned out to be his shelter of protection. Craig Foster has backed Hakeem in all possible ways. He worked as a key reason for Hakeem’s permanent release from the Thailand prisons.

This is not the first time that football played as a tool for a nation’s PR activities. The pouring of substantial money in the European football circuit has been a cunning act of defending the sorry state of human rights in the middle-east. The fierce riots between the Shia and Sunni Muslims are the main cause of the now happening rampage in the middle-east. But, this incident crossed the lines of international diplomacy, law enforcement, refugee law, human rights, the geopolitics of football and the regular politics of domestic elections. The world looked upon the matter and raged in immense hatred.

Fears grew and human rights group came down to the streets to voice their protest. The Melbourne based football club, Pascoe Vale, where Hakeem currently plies his trade, took no time to learn the matter of the red notice, refugee law and diplomacy and started to campaign for his release. Player associations and unions joined in as well.

Finally, after a lot of conflicts, on Monday, the sun blazed the morning sky, and truth prevailed the triumph. On Monday, 11th of February, Thailand’s foreign ministry had petitioned the court to drop the extradition case. The battle of justice finally came to an end after huge controversies as Hakeem Al-Araibi, the adopted child of a foreign land,  was flown to Australia, the new immigrant son of the Socceroos.

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