The latest chapter in the Alen Stajcic saga rendered Monday as another bleak day in Australian football’s history.
But, somewhat unexpectedly, the day ended in joy when it was revealed Hakeem Al-Araibi was to be released from a Thai prison after some three months of campaigning.
Bahrain’s extradition request against Al-Araibi, a semi-professional footballer for NPL Victoria side Pascoe Vale, was dropped.
Al-Araibi was detained by Thailand back in November, care of an Interpol red notice, despite being a protected refugee under Australian documents.
Issuing of red notices against protected refugees is contrary to Interpol protocol and as a result, Hakeem’s case went global via the hashtag #SaveHakeem.
It was pioneered by former Socceroo Craig Foster, who worked and travelled tirelessly to raise awareness for Al-Araibi’s peril.
In a statement issued by the PFA, another key post in the campaign, Foster described Al-Araibi’s release a “win for humanity”.
Next Australian of The Year.. @Craig_Foster Welcome back Hakeem 🙏🏽
— David Williams (@willo_15) February 11, 2019
“This is a win for humanity, for the power of citizens of the world demanding that human rights be protected,” Foster said.
“It is not possible to thank everyone involved because the campaign was not about me, about one or two or a handful, it was about hundreds of thousands of people and organisations of conscience worldwide who decided that goodness and compassion would triumph.”
PFA CEO John Didulica said attentions would quickly turn to managing Al-Araibi’s welfare upon his arrival back into Melbourne on Tuesday afternoon.
“On behalf of the PFA executive, we owe a debt of gratitude to the hundreds of thousands of people from the local football community who saved the life of a fellow footballer,” Didulica said.
“The PFA’s primary objective now is to ensure Hakeem has a chance to live a peaceful and prosperous life in Australia with his wife.
“We will ensure his immediate wellbeing is attended to and that he and his wife will have the opportunity to settle and finally enjoy their honeymoon together.”
FFA Chairman Chris Nikou thanked Foster, as well as the governments of Australia, Bahrain and Thailand.
We understand that @prayutofficial Govt and court has ruled to release Hakeem. My thanks go to the wonderful people of Thailand for your support and to Thai Govt for upholding international law. My deepest gratitude. Also to everyone who stood for what’s right 👏 #Hakeemhome
— Craig Foster (@Craig_Foster) February 11, 2019
“We are extremely grateful to the governments of Thailand and Bahrain for taking the decision to allow Hakeem to return to Australia,” Nikou said in a statement.
“We have seen our community unite in an extraordinary way over the past few months to campaign for Hakeem’s release.
“We would particularly like to thank former Socceroo Craig Foster for his tireless efforts in leading this campaign and we also acknowledge the work of Professional Footballers Australia, Football Victoria and Pascoe Vale FC.
“I know the Australian Government has been working on this every day since his detention and I would like to personally thank the prime minister, foreign minister, embassy staff, DFAT and all sides of politics for their support.
“I would also like to thank FFA Chief Executive Officer David Gallop, Chief Operations Officer and Head of International Relations Mark Falvo and their teams who have played an important part behind the scenes with FIFA, AFC as well as the Australian government to support their efforts.
“The football family looks forward to welcoming Hakeem home and providing him with ongoing support after such a difficult period.”