Australian refugee Hakeem al-Araibi (centre) leaves the criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand.
Australian refugee Hakeem al-Araibi (centre) leaves the criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand. Sakchai Lalit

Since when did Australia kowtow to Saudi laws?

YOU know what? I'm not going to comment on the findings of the Banking Royal Commission ... just yet.

It's only been a few days since its release and we are yet to adequately examine the political responses. It will be interesting to see how quickly Parliament does anything about it, considering the inadequate number of sitting days scheduled before the election.

The question I raise this week is: Exactly what standing does Australia now have in the world?

It sometimes seems that past actions (and inactions) by successive governments have manifest into a situation where we are diminished. We don't seem to carry much weight at all any more on the international stage.

Consequently, we seem to now be playing catch-up in terms of resisting China's push into the South Pacific. Condescending comments in recent times by the likes of Peter Dutton and our phantom Minister for the Environment go nowhere to improving how we are viewed by our Pacific neighbours. In the southeast of Asia, we also don't seem to carry much influence, despite all of our investment in the region and historical largesse.

I hold deep concerns for the fate of Hakeem al-Araibi.

As much as we are being assured by the Morrison Government that they are doing all they can to secure his safe return, Thai authorities seem more bent on buckling to pressure being exerted by Bahrain.

Hakeem was granted refugee status in Australia after fleeing his homeland, where he had been tortured for voicing opposition to the corrupt and brutal regime there. Bahrain wants him back to serve a 10-year sentence on fake charges that he vandalised a police station.

It points to the corruption of basic principles of law in Bahrain, where someone can be convicted of a charge alleged to have been committed at the very time the accused is on national TV playing football.

There should have been a strong element of goodwill between Australia and Thailand after we played such a key role in the rescue of those kids from the cave last year. Plus, one cannot dismiss the importance to the Thai economy of Australian tourists ... and Hakeem and his wife were on their honeymoon there.

So the question must be asked as to what pressure Bahrain is applying to Thailand which puts our relationship at risk? Particularly as Thailand has its own problems with Sunni Muslim extremists and Bahrain is a Sunni Muslim nation. One wonders if Hakeem al-Araibi, a man who sought our protection, is destined to be sacrificed in the interests of keeping on side with a brutal ally of the West.

Publicly the Morrison Government says it is doing everything possible to secure Hakeem's release, but are they really? Are we too more concerned with upsetting relations with an Arab ally? After all, Hakeem would not be in this situation had not someone in Border Force alerted Thailand of the Interpol notice that was erroneously issued for his arrest. Who in Border Force alerted Thailand and why?

The plight of Saudi women attempting to seek asylum here only increases my scepticism that Australian authorities are doing their jobs and aren't being influenced by the current government's view of refugees and the desire to increase trade and defence relationships with the Saudi regime, at the expense of our humanitarian responsibilities.

The case of Rahaf Mohammed gives me cause to question whether we are seriously living up to not only the Australian qualities of the 'fair go' and 'defending the underdog', but also whether the government is living up to our duties under international law concerning asylum seekers. Not much publicity was given to the recent loophole that was passed by Parliament to ensure that we could send asylum seekers away from our airports and still not breach our international obligations. Sneaky and shameful.

In Rahaf's case, Australian authorities appeared to drag their feet on processing her claim, as she awaited an uncertain fate holed up at Bangkok Airport. We seemed unseemly quick to cancel her visa when Saudi officials seized her passport, though. Foreign Minister Marise Payne explained that the process to examine Rahaf's asylum claim would necessarily take some time. This seemed to be bureaucratic codswallop, considering how quickly Canada stepped in and gave her asylum.

Further cases have since emerged of the plight of Saudi women who Border Force have turned away without their cases being even examined. So speedily were their visas cancelled and so speedily were they put on planes out of here, there was no time for the UNHCR to become involved. Those women were being condemned to goodness knows what upon their return to Saudi Arabia. This edict by the Australian Government could have well resulted in some of these poor women being killed.

Those Saudi women fortunate enough to find asylum here speak of still living in fear. Allegedly, Saudi officials have been tracking them down and harassing them. We are supposed to have sworn to protect these women, in accordance with our humanitarian obligations. Peter Dutton and ScoMo constantly beat their chests about protecting Australian sovereignty and stamping out covert foreign influence, so where are the diplomatic expulsions of these Saudi officials? Is it because we are too afraid of losing weapons contracts with the world's most influential Sunni Muslim nation?

I really don't get the West's love affair with Saudi Arabia. Why are we cosying up to such a brutal regime? One that not only treats women like livestock but which is the power base for Sunni Islam, the Islamic sect which has caused the West so much grief in recent decades.

How can we be turning these poor women away without even giving them the chance to have their asylum claims heard? Since when did we start kowtowing to Saudi laws? I find it repugnant that Border Force officers are interrogating Saudi women travelling without their male "guardians”. This isn't who we are.

If we are that prepared to dismiss our principles of basic decency, perhaps it is no wonder our standing among our neighbours is so greatly diminished. We as a people are better than this. And we are beholden to demand the same of our federal MPs.

Gympie Times

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