FOI documents raise serious concerns over Australian Government’s role in detention of Hakeem al-Araibi

Freedom of information documents finally released after nine months illustrate how shambolic communication and a culture of punishment before protection within the Home Affairs Department put Hakeem al-Araibi’s life at risk.

Hakeem was unfairly detained in Thailand in November 2018 for 76 days on an erroneous Interpol red notice after contacting the Australian Government to ensure he was safe to travel there on his honeymoon, having fled persecution from his native Bahrain in 2014. 

The FOI documents reveal that Australian officials endangered Hakeem’s safety and ultimately risked his life when they told Bahrain, the country he fled from, that he was travelling.

Then, once detained, Australian officials started the process of cancelling his visa – a move which would have left Hakeem extremely vulnerable to extradition to Bahrain.

“It is deeply concerning that there appears to be a systemic failure across and between Australian Government departments,” Amnesty International Australia National Director, Claire Mallinson, said.

“Australia recognised that Hakeem was fleeing persecution and that he is a refugee, but the Home Affairs department was not able to cross check its own domestic records effectively and was reliant on another international organisation, to point out its error.” 

The Department of Home Affairs covers immigration, citizenship as well as Australian Border Force under one umbrella. As revealed in the FOI documents, the system it operates under is at best unclear, and at worst sees different parts of the department actively working in contravention of the responsibilities of another. 

It appears from the information obtained under the FOI that Border Force was unaware of the danger it was putting al-Araibi in by informing Bahrain he was travelling, despite Immigration recognising him as a refugee. 

“Australia failed to provide the protection it promised Hakeem when it recognised that he was a refugee by telling Bahrain that he was travelling. 

“Thankfully that  failure did not result in tragic consequences, but did see Hakeem detained for more than 10 weeks,” Mallinson said. 

She said the information obtained under the FOI demonstrated Australia’s punitive approach to asylum seekers and refugees with its first move being to consider cancelling al-Araibi’s visa. 

“The failure of Minister Dutton’s Home Affairs department to protect Hakeem, and instead place him in great peril, highlights the urgent need for a comprehensive independent review. It’s critical that changes are made to ensure that others are not put in the sort of danger that damaged Hakeem and his family and risked Hakeem’s life . 

“The systems currently in place mean that this terrible situation could happen again at anytime.”

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