Professional Footballers Australia (the PFA) would like to extend its gratitude to the Australian football community, athletes, human rights activists, the global union movement and the Governments of Thailand and Australia for their role in helping return Hakeem Al-Araibi to his wife and home in Melbourne.

The 25-year-old refugee footballer is currently en route to Melbourne and will touch down on Tuesday afternoon, having been detained in a Thai prison since his arrest on 27 November, following Bahrain’s extradition request under an erroneous Interpol Red Notice.

Al-Araibi was released on Monday after prosecutors dropped Bahrain’s request to extradite the former international footballer back to his home country – a place he fled to escape persecution in 2014.

PFA Chief Executive John Didulica praised the commitment of the football community in fighting for Hakeem’s cause.

“On behalf of the PFA Executive, we owe a debt of gratitude to the hundreds of thousands of people from the local football community who saved the life of a fellow footballer,” Didulica said 

“The PFA’s primary objective now is to ensure Hakeem has a chance to live a peaceful and prosperous life in Australia with his wife. We will ensure his immediate wellbeing is attended to and that he and his wife will have the opportunity to settle and finally enjoy their honeymoon together.”

Didulica thanked Hakeem’s club, Pascoe Vale SC, Football Victoria (FV) and Football Federation Australia (FFA), the global athlete union movement led by FIFPro and the World Players Association as well as human rights groups, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Gulf Institute of Democracy and Human Rights and fellow activists, including the Australian Council of Trade Unions. 

“This truly was an international movement, drawing on the expertise of people spread across the world”, said Didulica.

“It started small, in the local football community here in Victoria, but the resolute spirit spread to clubs across the country, encompassing our A-League and W-League players, former greats from our national teams, current and former Socceroos and Matildas and football fans. Once it gathered global momentum, the support for Hakeem was as irresistible as it was overwhelming.”

“The football community has demonstrated its collective ability to recognise and fight for fundamental human rights. Rest assured, Hakeem would not be back in Melbourne today if wasn’t for those within football finding their voice.”

PFA Life Member and former Socceroo captain Craig Foster echoed the tributes upon arrival into Melbourne on Tuesday morning to welcome Al-Araibi home.

“This is a win for humanity, for the power of citizens of the world demanding that human rights be protected,” Foster said.

“It is not possible to thank everyone involved because the campaign was not about me, about one or two or a handful, it was about hundreds of thousands of people and organisations of conscience worldwide who decided that goodness and compassion would triumph.”