Our refugees win literary awards, they move us on Twitter, and they heavily influence our news cycles. But, somehow, each new name seems to be a scandal the government needs to endure – nothing more.
Hakeem al-Araibi was frog-marched yesterday in leg shackles as the refugee-cum-soccer-player went on trial. Al-Araibi was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment in absentia in his home country of Bahrain for his alleged role in vandalising a police station in 2012. He denies the charges and was also given proper refugee status by the Australian government.
Al-Araibi was detained on an Interpol Red Notice while on his honeymoon in Bangkok on November 27, and has been in Thai prison since. The court also ruled that he will remain in prison until his court date on April 22, as was somewhat expected given the unlikelihood of a Thai court to offer bail to a foreigner. His legal team has until April 5 to submit its defence as to why al-Araibi should not be extradited back to Bahrain.
“Please don’t send me back to Bahrain, they will torture me,” he said aloud to a large contingent of international media on his way into the courtroom. He was in a prison jumpsuit, bound in chains, and flanked by two Thai officers.
Media were not permitted inside the courtroom, nor were members of the public who were not Embassy members. FIFPro representative Francis Awaritefe said the worry lies in the “haste in which this hearing was announced on Friday”. Fellow sportspeople and fans, including former Socceroo Craig Foster, are supporting al-Araibi through this, sending messages of encouragement.
Foster said that Thailand is being used by Bahrain in order to punish the refugee. The story has echoes of the way in which Russia is abusing the Interpol Red Notice system in order to punish dissidents internationally. It seems like Bahrain may have cottoned on to this idea and used Thailand as the means in which to achieve it.
Whilst Prime Minister Scott Morrison did step in, it was subdued compared by any standard, considering al-Araibi was granted a permanent protection visa by Australia.
This story comes as another in a heartbreaking line of refugee tales that seem to fall on deaf ears. Writer and journalist Behrouz Boochani just won the top prize at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards for his work No Friend But The Mountains. Despite this, the outspoken Boochani remains imprisoned on Manus Island, reporting live on Twitter and Facebook feeds the torturous circumstances endured by the people stuck there in a sort of existential limbo. The Morrison government, amongst this, has tried to pat itself for getting the last of the kids off Nauru, despite openly and actively supporting the imprisonment regime imposed on those seeking asylum to Australia, which is a legal right.
And let’s not forget that last month Rahaf al-Qunun fled her abusive Saudi family to seek asylum in Australia. The Morrison government shuffled its feet on the idea, caught between doing the right thing and doing the wrong thing it’s long supported doing, allowing Canada to swoop in and grant asylum to her.
Common amongst all of these stories are refugees trapped in horrible circumstances, followed by a wave of social media outrage, which is promptly followed by nothing. Behrouz remains imprisoned. Although Rahaf has luckily been adopted by my own home country, it was only because Australia was conspicuously silent on helping her.
And in the case of Hakeem they, too, remain all too quiet. Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne has “reiterated concerns” regarding the case. And whilst Prime Minister Scott Morrison did step in to prevent the extradition by calling in a favour to his Thai counterpart, it was slow-coming. This reaction is subdued compared by any standard, considering al-Araibi was granted a permanent protection visa by Australia.
“The Australian government is making extensive efforts to seek Mr al-Araibi’s safe return to Australia, and will continue to advocate for this,” said a spokesperson for Australian foreign affairs.
But the feeling one gets is that the government doesn’t actually care about these people, and it would be surprising to discover that they did. Al-Araibi is the only one who, so far, has received any kind of broad attention from the government, and it seems as if that’s only because he is being detained by a foreign government and not our own. He is a protected person of this nation and our leaders have to be seen as going to bat for him, but anyone else that comes here?
They can rot, can’t they?