Since Australia began redirecting hundreds of asylum seekers to offshore processing camps in 2013, it's become rare for human rights observers to applaud its prime minister's treatment of refugees.

But the case of Bahraini football player and dissident Hakeem al-Araibi has nearly all sides rallying behind the same cause: Free Hakeem.

The Melbourne-based refugee was arrested in Bangkok by Thai authorities on his honeymoon in November after Bahrain issued a possibly politically motivated warrant for his arrest.

Araibi fled Bahrain in 2014 and was later sentenced to prison in absentia for vandalising a police station, which he insists he did not do. Human rights groups have accused Bahrain of state-sanctioned torture and other human rights violations, and Araibi said he was tortured there and would fear for his life if he was sent back.

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After fleeing Bahrain, Araibi was granted asylum in Australia in 2017.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued strong words of condemnation for Thai authorities' handling of the case, saying he was "disturbed" to see the player in shackles. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Morrison has written to Thailand's prime minister twice, requesting his assistance in freeing Araibi.

Thailand's Foreign Ministry released a statement claiming that the country "would not have become involved in the issue had we not received the red notice alert from the Australian Interpol and the subsequent formal request by Bahrain for his arrest and extradition."

Interpol issues an alert called a red notice that informs member countries when a nation or international tribunal requests them to do so on the basis of an arrest warrant, leaving it up to individual countries to decide whether to intervene.

Australia has acknowledged it eventually notified Thai authorities about Araibi's travel to Thailand, but the Australian Embassy in Thailand vehemently denied that it issued the initial red notice. The alert should "never have been issued because of Mr Alaraibi's status as a protected refugee," a statement from the embassy said, calling it "a breach of Interpol's regulations."

Australia has also said it is "reviewing its procedures" over why its officials notified Thailand of Araibi's travel despite his refugee status.


Thai authorities maintain that they are merely following their own laws and are unable to deviate from those procedures.

Human rights lawyers disagree, citing a key principle of international law: the "non-refoulement" principle, which mandates that all nations should refrain from sending people to a place where they would be at risk of being prosecuted or harmed for being part of a specific "race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion."

Thailand has a long track record of ignoring that principle, according to Amnesty International and other human rights organisations, which may explain its handling of the Araibi arrest.

Other countries have also sought ways around having to admit asylum seekers they cannot send back to their countries of origin. Australia's offshore processing centres are an example of efforts to avoid violating the principle while refusing to take in asylum seekers who arrive by sea.

When he was immigration minister, Morrison defended the offshore migrant camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island, helping to launch what quickly became one of the most contentious chapters in the country's contemporary history.


Many migrants who attempted to reach Australia by boat have languished on the islands for years. Recent lawsuits allege that the camps constitute a "crime against humanity," and physicians have drawn a direct link between the internment and widespread depression and psychological distress in the camps. The UN's special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants has called them "inhuman."

Doctors Without Borders said in a report in December that almost a third of its patients on Nauru had attempted suicide.

"The difference between patients who have been in detention for a short and for a long time is that the latter experience a loss of hope and a loss of control over their future. Post-traumatic stress disorders and depression are often the result. It breaks down a person's spirit over time," said Doctors Without Borders psychologist Christine Rufener, whose organisation was asked to leave Nauru within 24 hours in October but is continuing to provide psychological counselling to patients remotely.

Children have been especially affected, with some of them suffering with a rare condition known as "resignation syndrome," which can occur when children face hopelessness and severe trauma for a prolonged period of time.


Reports of children on Nauru being unable to eat and drink eventually forced the Australian Government to make some compromises. Officials finally allowed some children to be temporarily evacuated to Australia, and the last four children on Nauru are expected to be resettled in the United States this year, in a deal struck under US President Barack Obama.

The Australian Government has celebrated the resettlements as a success, writing in a statement: "We have secured our borders, we stopped the boats and the tragic drownings at sea. And we have been supporting children compassionately without putting our strong border security at risk."

Human rights advocates dispute that the policy has stopped migrants from attempting to reach Australia by boat. And even though the Australian Government has emphasised its recent efforts to resettle children, human rights groups continue to fear for the safety of the adults left on the islands.