News People Refugee footballer becomes Australian citizen

Refugee footballer becomes Australian citizen

hakeem citizenship
New Australian citizen Hakeem al-Araibi in Melbourne on Tuesday. Photo: AAP
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Footballer Hakeem al-Araibi feels he is finally safe after he was welcomed as an Australian citizen at a ceremony in Melbourne.

The 25-year-old returned to Australia in February following a publicised stint in a Bangkok jail, after his birth country Bahrain pursued his extradition over allegations he vandalised a police station.

After passing his citizenship test with flying colours, the star defender was formally recognised as an Australian during a ceremony at Federation Square on Tuesday.

“I’m an Aussie now,” he said. “I’m very happy to get citizen, I’m very happy to be safe.”

He was among more than 200 people from 44 countries who took the citizenship oath on Tuesday.

The soccer player hoped to get back to playing for Pascoe Vale football club but was aiming for the A-League and even the national team.

“I want to focus on soccer for this country,” Mr al-Araibi said.

He was also humbled by support from Australians for his return and thanked them and former Socceroo Craig Foster and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne.

They both made him strong and helped him return home, he said.

Both were at Tuesday’s ceremony.

“It’s surreal in some ways to think that not too long ago, he was in prison fatigues sitting behind a Perspex window,” Foster said.

He said Mr al-Araibi got 100 per cent on his citizenship test several weeks ago and was looking forward to contributing to his new country.

“We want to see you pulling on the green and gold,” Foster said he told the young player.

Mr al-Araibi sat in the front row as Senator Payne spoke at the ceremony.

“Across the Australian community, we were concerned for his welfare,” she said of his detention.

“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,” she said.

Senator Payne said all new citizens would be granted the same rights and responsibilities and it was a “thrill” they had chosen to make Australia home.