Australia pours cold water on citizenship bid for refugee footballer

The Department of Home Affairs has poured cold water on a pitch to have citizenship granted on Australian-based refugee footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, in a bid to help free him from a Thai jail where he awaits deportation to Bahrain.

Lawyers for Al-Araibi, supported by the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (GIDHR), lodged an appeal with Peter Dutton this week, seeking his intervention on Al-Araibi’s case.

They argued giving Al-Araibi citizenship would bolster his chances of being returned to Australia instead of deported to Bahrain – the country he fled and was granted refugee status from.

“This request requires emergency government intervention and marks Australia’s stance on protecting legitimate refugees,” said lawyer Latifa al-Haouli.

“This is a matter of national interest, far exceeding the criteria of public interest used to assess ministerial interventions.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which began assisting Al-Araibi almost immediately upon his detention through consular staff in Bangkok, was limited in what it could provide or demand because he is not a citizen.

However the Department of Home Affairs said on Wednesday the minister did not have the power to automatically grant citizenship.

“All persons applying for Australian citizenship must meet the legal requirements under the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 in order to be granted citizenship,” it said.

“Neither the minister, nor the department have the power to waive any of the legal requirements in the Australian Citizenship Act 2007.”

Al-Araibi’s supporters argue the act allows ministerial discretion.

“We urge the Australian government, especially the minister of home affairs, Mr Peter Dutton, to grant Hakeem al-Araibi the Australian citizenship attempting to save his life from the imminent danger he will face if deported to Bahrain,” said GIDHR spokeswoman Fatima Yazbek.

“Bahraini prisons lack the minimum standards of prisoners’ rights, and the political prisoners are suffering from miserable conditions and lack of their basic rights.”

Al-Araibi was arrested on arrival in Bangkok three weeks ago on an Interpol red notice which has since been withdrawn.

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