Fears grow for Australian-based refugee detained in Thailand
There are fears an Australian-based refugee could swiftly be deported to Bahrain from , after the man’s wife said she was told by local immigration authorities he had been “taken” and “would not return”.
He was later able to call his wife and told her he was in a prison near the airport and his travel documents had been taken from him.
Hakeem Al-Araibi arrived in Bangkok for a holiday last week but was , which is .
The red notice was issued by , the country Al-Araibi fled and was granted asylum from by the Australian government.
His lawyer, Latifa Al-Haouli told Guardian Australia Al-Araibi’s wife said he was “taken” but didn’t know where. She was only told “he will not return”, the lawyer said.
The Australian department of foreign affairs would not comment on the development, reiterating its earlier statement that its Bangkok embassy officials were in “direct contact” with Thai authorities, but it could not comment further due to privacy.
There is a direct flight from Bangkok to Bahrain at 8.50pm local time.
Thai immigration authorities had told 25-year-old Al-Araibi on Sunday they would allow him to return to Australia on Tuesday if Bahrain had not sought his extradition by then.
He was told on Friday to book a flight home to Australia for Saturday night, but then on Saturday afternoon , and he was transferred from the airport to immigration detention.
The abrupt change came shortly after a tweet from Bahrain’s embassy in Thailand which said “the suspect is wanted for security cases which the Embassy is aware of”. The embassy said it was “following up with the relevant security authorities in this regard.
“I don’t want to stay here,” Al-Araibi told Guardian Australia shortly before he was taken.
“I’m a refugee in Australia, I’m scared of the Bahraini government … They will kill me. I don’t know what’s going to happen there. My life will end if I go to Bahrain.”
The existence and acceptance of the red notice raised concerns about alleged abuse of the international arrest warrant system.
“Under no circumstances can he be sent to Bahrain,” the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, said.
“Interpol Red Notices do not apply to recognised refugees like Hakeem al-Araibi”.
Al-Araibi said last week he had spoken with an Australian embassy employee who told him to wait, but he wanted someone to visit him.
“No one has come to see me,” he said. “No one has come here. My lawyer said maybe someone from the Australian embassy would come here to meet me but no one has come here yet.”
Al-Araibi fled from Bahrain in 2014 after being detained and tortured, and has been living as a refugee in Australia, playing football for a team in Melbourne.
A Bahrain court sentenced him in absentia to 10 years in jail over an alleged act of vandalism which he has long denied and said occurred at the same time he was playing in a televised football match for the Bahrain national team.
The couple had planned to holiday in Thailand, and Al-Araibi said he checked with Australian authorities that he was OK to travel. He flew to Bangkok ahead of his wife on Australian travel documents.
Al-Araibi told Guardian Australia the Thai officers had shown him the red notice when he was arrested but he didn’t have a copy, didn’t know when it was issued, and didn’t know it existed until that point.
Human rights observers have pointed to the fact that in 2015 Interpol’s general assembly officially changed its policies to ban the issuing of red notices against refugees by countries which they fled from. It said this was to formalise a process already in place after being adopted in mid 2014.
Al-Araibi was not officially granted asylum in Australia until 2017, more than three years after he arrived.
He had previously travelled internationally without issue.
Supporters suspect the red notice may have been issued after Al-Araibi spoke to media in 2016, alleging torture and abuse at the hands of Bahraini authorities.
In media interviews he was also critical of the current president of the Asian Football Confederation, Sheikh Salman Alkhalifa, during Alkhalifa’s bid for the FIFA presidency that year.
Guardian Australia asked Interpol a number of questions about Al-Araibi’s red notice but was told the agency could not comment on specific cases “except in special circumstances and with the approval of the member country concerned” – in this case Bahrain.
The 2015 policy change enabled Interpol to “support member countries in preventing criminals from abusing refugee status, while providing adequate and effective safeguards to protect the rights of refugees”, a spokesman said.
“In general, the processing of Red Notices and diffusions against refugees will not be allowed if the status of refugee or asylum-seeker has been confirmed and the notice/diffusion has been requested by the country where the individual fears persecution.
“However, a challenge still facing this process is the reluctance of countries to confirm if they have granted refugee status to an individual.”
The human rights organisation Fair Trials has campaigned for changes to Interpol, including the way it issues and reviews red notices.
“We believe that its systems – particularly its international ‘wanted person’ alerts (“Red Notices”) are by countries around the world in order to persecute refugees, journalists and peaceful political demonstrators, at huge personal cost to these individuals,” the organisation has said.
Fair Trials has previously assisted others , an Egyptian man sentenced in absentia in Egypt after he fled in 1992, who was held – and remains – in immigration detention in Australia.