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Australia grants citizenship to Bahraini footballer

Refugee Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi walks with Craig Foster, former Australian football captain and commentator as he arrives at Melbourne Airport on 12 February 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. [Scott Barbour/Getty Images]
Refugee Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi walks with Craig Foster, former Australian football captain and commentator as he arrives at Melbourne Airport on 12 February 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. [Scott Barbour/Getty Images]

One month after the release of a Bahraini footballer from Thai prison, the Australian government granted him citizenship on Tuesday, Anadolu Agency reports.

Hakeem al-Araibi, 25, was formally recognized as an Australian national during a ceremony at Federation Square in Melbourne on Tuesday, daily The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

“I’m an Aussie now,” al-Araibi told media after being held to a citizenship test in the country where he was living as a refugee since 2014.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison attended the ceremony as the country’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne addressed the ceremony.

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The daily said al-Araibi was among more than 200 people from 44 countries who took the oath to become Australian citizens.

On Feb. 11, a court in Bangkok ordered the footballer’s release shortly after Thai public prosecutors asked the court to scrap an earlier ruling to extradite the footballer to Bahrain.

Al-Araibi had been detained in Thailand since last November after arriving in the country’s capital with his wife.

Bahrain was seeking his extradition as he was wanted in the country regarding a 2014 case related to the 2011 anti-government protests in Manama.

Al-Araibi rejected all charges against him as “politically-motivated”, arguing that he was playing in a televised football match at the time the alleged offenses were committed.

He has been living in Australia as a refugee since 2014 after he fled his Bahrain fearing for his life.

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The detention of al-Araibi generated a global outrage against Thailand and Bahrain with the Australian premier writing twice to Bangkok for the release of the footballer who plays for a Melbourne club.

The Bahraini football player said he hopes to get back to playing for Pascoe Vale football club but was aiming for the A-League and even the Australian national team, the media reports added.

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

Speaking at the event, Australian Foreign Minister said the Australian community had been concerned for al-Araibi’s welfare throughout the ordeal.

“I was very proud to witness that campaign [for al-Araibi’s release]. It embodied some of the best elements of Australia: looking after one another, mateship, a fair go,” Payne said.

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