Australia police say they didn’t know Bahraini was refugee

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian Federal Police did not know a Bahraini football player was a refugee who feared persecution in his homeland when the agency alerted Bahrain and Thailand that he was on a flight bound for Bangkok, a top police official said yesterday.

Police Deputy Commissioner Ramzi Jabbour told a Senate committee the two countries were alerted on November 27 last year almost six hours before Hakeem al-Araibi landed after a nine-hour flight from Melbourne on his honeymoon.

The bungle drew the Australian government, international football bodies and human rights advocates into a top-level dispute with the Thai and Bahrain governments to gain al-Araibi’s freedom. He was detained at the airport and was held 76 days under threat of extradition to Bahrain before he was released last week and returned to Melbourne.

The rules of international policing organisation Interpol prevent a Red Notice from being issued for an acknowledged refugee to be sent back to the country from which he or she fled persecution.

Australian officials face days of questioning by a Senate committee this week to determine how the bungle arose.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin told the committee that police did not know that al-Araibi was a refugee and did not have access to his visa status when Bahrain applied for a Red Notice to Australia’s Interpol bureau on November 9 last year.

The Australian Border Force did not advise Australian police that al-Araibi was a refugee until a day after he was detained in Thailand, Colvin said.

Bahraini soccer player Hakeem al-Araibi. – AP