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Australian citizenship ‘not far’ for freed Bahraini footballer

Bahrain wanted the 25-year-old returned to serve a 10-year prison sentence he received in absentia in 2014 [Reuters] Australia ‘s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has told the recently freed Bahraini footballer, Hakeem al-Araibi, that he may soon be granted the Australian citizenship.

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The assurance on Thursday came just days after al-Araibi, who fled Bahrain in 2014 and received refugee status in Australia, was released by the Thai authorities following a months-long ordeal.

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“It’s wonderful to have you here. I know it’s been a trying time for you,” Morrison told al-Araibi at the Australian parliament in Canberra.

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190212010457317 “We are so pleased you are here now and that you can come and live your life here in Australia,” the PM added

Al-Araibi, who credits Morrison with securing his freedom, was also welcomed to the PM’s office in parliament where the men shook hands

“Thank you very much. I’m so happy to be back in Australia now and I’m grateful to be here to live in this country,” he said

The 25-year-old also thanked Foreign Minister Marise Payne as well as former Australian national team captain Craig Foster who ran a campaign to help free the footballer.

Morrison gifted al-Araibi a football, which he signed “welcome home Hakeem,” and asked the footballer to sign another one for him.

Al-Araibi was arrested upon his arrival in Bangkok in November on his honeymoon

His native Bahrain, which filed an extradition request through Interpol, wanted him returned to serve a 10-year prison sentence he received in absentia in 2014 for an arson attack that damaged a police station

Al-Araibi, a former member of Bahrain‘s national team, has denied the accusation, saying he was playing a televised match at the time

He was released when Thai authorities shared a letter indicating that Bahrain had withdrawn its request for al-Araibi

Officials in Bahrain said the country “reaffirms its right to pursue all necessary legal actions against” al-Araibi

He says he fled the Gulf state because of political repression and that he fears torture if he returns

The footballer said he is back in training next week with his Melbourne-based club Pascoe Vale.

Inside Story – Will Thailand deport a refugee footballer to Bahrain? (25:15)

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies