Supporters Greet Bahraini Refugee Soccer Player Upon Long-Awaited Return to Australia

Bahraini refugee and professional soccer player Hakeem al-Araibi returned to his home of Australia Tuesday to crowds of supporters after spending two months in a Thai prison, the BBC reports.

“I would like to say thanks to Australia. It’s amazing to see all of the people here and all of the Australian people who supported me,” he said.

The 25-year-old Bahrain national has refugee status in Australia, where he plays for the Melbourne team Pascoe Vale FC.

Al-Araibi fled to Australia after being detained and tortured following the 2011 Arab Spring protests in Bahrain, according to Human Rights Watch.

He was detained in Bangkok in November while on his honeymoon, at the request of Bahraini authorities who then sought his extradition. He faces a 10 year sentence for allegedly vandalizing a police station, which he denies.

On Monday, a Thai court ordered al-Araibi’s release after prosecutors dropped a request to extradite him. Had al-Araibi returned to Arab kingdom, activists warned that he could face torture.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the player’s release on Monday, tweeting, “We look forward to seeing you home, Hakeem.”

[1/2] Hakeem al-Araibi is on his way home to his wife and family.

I want to thank all Australians for their support in achieveing this outcome. We are grateful to the Thai Government and thank them for the way they have engaged with us to enable Hakeem to return to Australia.

— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) February 11, 2019

Upon his return to Australia, his 24-year-old wife, who asked not to be named, told the BBC, “I have had a smile all the time on my face and I can’t stop crying – I am just so happy…I prayed and prayed that he would come back to me, and finally our nightmare is ending.”

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