Human rights groups and the Australian football community hold a protest in front of the Opera House for the release of refugee footballer Hakeem Alaraibi in Sydney on January 10, 2019. // AFP PHOTO
Human rights groups and the Australian football community hold a protest in front of the Opera House for the release of refugee footballer Hakeem Alaraibi in Sydney on January 10, 2019. // AFP PHOTO

No clarity on fate of Saudi teen, Bahraini footballer after visit by Australian minister

ASEAN+ January 11, 2019 01:00

By THE NATION

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THE FATE of two Australia-bound asylum seekers from the Middle East, who were stopped in Thailand, remained unclear as visiting Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne discussed the two cases with her Thai counterpart yesterday.



Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who had run away from alleged family threats, has been under the care of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHRC) in a safe house in Bangkok since Monday, when Thai authorities gave up their plan to deport her after the case made global headlines.

Payne told reporters that Canberra was “engaged in the steps of the assessment process of al-Qunun as required”. 

There was “no possibility” that al-Qunun would return to Australia with her yesterday, said Payne, who declined to speculate on a timeframe for giving the Saudi teen asylum if she were granted refugee status. 

Immigration chief Surachate Hakparn said al-Qunun’s father and brother, who have arrived in Thailand, could not object to the UN process as she has already been granted refugee status.

The Immigration police chief said the father and brother had told him that the case was a family matter and not related to relations between Thailand and Saudi Arabia. Thailand is ready to facilitate her travel to a country where she could be resettled, he added. 

Unusual speed

Australian authorities are weighing the young Saudi woman’s asylum claim at unusual speed, several lawyers and legal experts told AFP, contrasting her high-profile plight with a normally excruciatingly slow system.

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne talks to members of the press during a press conference at the Australian Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, 10 January 2019. // EPA-EFE PHOTO

Canberra has insisted it will treat the case of 18-year-old al-Qunun “in the usual way, as it does with all” refugee cases referred by the UN.

But just days after fleeing a powerful and allegedly abusive family in Saudi Arabia, al-Qunun has already been judged a legitimate refugee by the UN and been in contact with Australian officials in Bangkok about resettlement.

Her plight is not that of refugees who languish for years in sprawling city camps like Dadaab, Kenya or Zaatari, Jordan.

“Usually it’s really very slow,” said Mary Anne Kenny, a veteran legal practitioner and expert in Australian migration at Perth’s Murdoch University. 

HA protestor holds a placard during a protest in front of the Opera House for the release of refugee footballer Hakeem Alaraibi in Sydney on January 10, 2019. // AFP PHOTO

Payne said during her visit to Thailand yesterday, she had also advocated the safe return to Australia of footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, who has been detained in Thailand since November while trying to go on vacation. 

Al-Araibi was granted permanent residency by the Australian government in recognition of his status as a refugee, she said. Al-Araibi, however, faces a court trial in Thailand for extradition as requested by Bahrain for his role in anti-government protests. 

Payne reiterated Australia’s call to Thailand not to send al-Araibi back to Bahrain.

Graham Thom, refugee coordinator at Amnesty International Australia, called upon the |football community to help support the return of al-Araibi to Australia.

“Hakeem will not be safe until he is back home in Australia. As a recognised refugee with approved travel documents, he should never have been detained. He faces torture and possible death if he is sent back to Bahrain,” he said. 

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