I had the privilege of attending the Pascoe Vale Football Club’s February 22 celebration of Hakeem Al-Araibi’s homecoming after he spent about two and a half months in a Thai jail for no crime other than being a refugee and human rights advocate.
It was a moving event and gave a glimpse of the incredible diversity of people who had worked for Araibi’s release, starting with the Bahraini community who alerted many to his arrest when they organised a 7-day protest in front of the Thai consulate in Melbourne last December.
I was first introduced to the Bahraini community in 2012–13 and met a man who was a family member of the first person to be killed by the Bahraini regime in the pro-democracy uprising in 2011.
The Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights played a significant role in the campaign for Hakeem’s release.
The Pascoe Vale Football Club also pulled out all stops.
Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) also played a significant role. The PFA is affiliated to the Australian Council of Trade Unions and its role is to represent players rather than the corporate controllers of the game. They were the first football organisation to get on board the campaign after Hakeem’s own club took up the case.
Former Socceroos captain and SBS commentator Craig Foster was the next football identity to get involved with gusto.
This wide network could be activated to support the campaign because Araibi was a footballer. It was this support that forced the Australian government to shift its position from first saying it bore no responsibility for Araibi landing in jail to Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling for Araibi’s release.
On the night, Foster spoke about how the Macedonian community helped form the Pascoe Vale Football Club. All of the early football clubs had their origins in different migrant communities until the sport decided that to attract the corporate dollar it had to get rid of the ethnic identities of clubs.
However, the migrant origins of the clubs also means there are many refugees who have played or are currently playing in the clubs.
So there was a much more ready solidarity for Araibi than would likely be the case in other sports.
Now we need to harness this support shown for Araibi to win broader support to free all the refugees on Manus Island and Nauru and to bring them all to Australia.