Refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi granted Australian citizenship

Hakeem al-Araibi, who was granted refugee status and residency in Australia in 2017 after fleeing Bahrain, became an Australian at a ceremony in Melbourne. The 25-year-old was arrested while on honeymoon in Thailand last year.

Hakeem al-Araiby, a former Bahraini international football player and refugee displays his certificate after becoming an Australian citizen, four weeks after escaping extradition to his homeland during a much-publicized detention in a Thai prison.   -  AP

A refugee footballer who was detained in Thailand and threatened with extradition to Bahrain said he feels sure “no one can follow me now,” after becoming an Australian citizen on Tuesday.

Hakeem al-Araibi, who was granted refugee status and residency in Australia in 2017 after fleeing Bahrain, became an Australian at a ceremony in Melbourne. The 25-year-old shot to international fame when he was arrested while on honeymoon in Thailand last year.

He was wanted by Bahrain on offences linked to the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. Amid a worldwide outcry, he was eventually allowed back to Melbourne, where he plays semi-professional football.

READ: Aussie legend hails #HakeemHome as win in battle for football's soul

Spotting a big smile on his face and a salmon-pink jacket, al-Araibi posed for photos with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne after the ceremony at Federation Square in Melbourne.

“I am very grateful to you, now I feel safe. No one can follow me now,” al-Araibi wrote on Twitter Tuesday.

READ: FIFA welcomes release of Hakeem al-Araibi

“It's a wonderful and awesome feeling to gain all this respect in my citizenship ceremony, I'm really proud to see Marise Payne... and other government representatives participating in my ceremony it make me feel secure.”

Al-Araiby said he hoped to soon resume playing football for his semi-professional Melbourne club, Pascoe Vale. But the defender also has his sights set on gaining a contract in Australia’s nationwide professional competition, the A-League, with hopes of one day representing Australia in international competition.

READ: 'Don't send me to Bahrain'

“I want to focus on soccer for this country,” he said.

Al-Araiby said he was humbled by support from Australians in the campaign which led to his return, and thanked former Australian captain Craig Foster and Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who led efforts for his release.

“Across the Australian community, we were concerned for his welfare,” Payne said at the citizenship ceremony. “I was very proud to witness that campaign. It embodied some of the best elements of Australia- looking after one another, mateship, a fair go.”

Foster said he hoped to see al-Araiby one day play for Australia, saying it was “surreal” to think that “not too long ago, he was in prison fatigues sitting behind a perspex window.”

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