Those who face persecution at home can find sanctuary in other jurisdictions. Once refugee status is granted they have the protection of the country granting asylum and the UN Convention on Refugees, or do they? The recent case of the refugee footballer, Hakeem Al–Araibi, who has been granted refugee status in Australia but was arrested in Thailand on his honeymoon due to the existence of an Interpol Red Notice, is a stark reminder of the jeopardy refugees face if criminal allegations exist in the home country from which they have sought refuge.
It is reported that Al-Araibi fled Bahrain due to fears of persecution, detention and torture after he was publicly critical about a member of the Bahraini Royal family. The Bahraini Government alleges he was tried in his absence and faces 10 years imprisonment.
Al-Araibi was safe as long as he remained in Australia, but once he set foot outside Australia, he was at risk of arrest and detention given the existence of an Interpol Red Notice. It is unclear whether he knew such a Red Notice existed. It is not a public document and often their very existence is not disclosed.
A Red Notice is an international alert system that is sent to all national crime agencies. If an individual is a refugee, this should be respected by all those who have signed up to the UN Convention on Refugees, but not all countries have signed up. In Thailand’s case, Al-Araibi was detained in November following his arrest and kept in custody until an extradition request from Bahrain was received and extradition proceedings commenced on 4 February. Al-Araibi arrived in court in shackles and chains, amidst outcry from the Australian Government.
Would things be different if he had been granted refugee status in the UK? If he was a refugee and a request for extradition was received by the UK Government, he could not be extradited because of his refugee status. But, if he became a British Citizen he could, as long as this was in accordance with the Extradition Act 2003 and there were no bars to his extradition (such as the extradition request being motivated for political purposes, the risk of inhuman or degrading treatment, the risk that rights to a fair trial would be violated, and other human rights abuses, to name a few). Whether extradition from the UK to Bahrain would in fact take place is therefore another matter.
Although a refugee is safe while in the UK, this safety is no longer guaranteed when travelling abroad, especially if this is to a country that has favourable relationships with the requesting country (if you face persecution in the Russian Federation, don’t travel to Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan or Belarus for example).
For those who have claimed or been granted refugee status or indeed anyone who has been convicted overseas or is aware criminal allegations are in existence, any travel should be carefully planned and advice sought before travel. All steps should be taken to establish if a Red Notice is in existence and if it is, or is suspected, an application to Interpol, through the CCF (the Commission for the Control of Files) should be made to have all personal data deleted.
This is a complex matter and not easily achieved but if travel is essential, steps should certainly be taken to remove information from the Interpol database. Local lawyers in the destination country should also be engaged in the event of an arrest. Whether or not the destination country respects the rights of refugees should be explored. The likelihood of a change in destination once in transit should be considered. Honeymoon destinations should be chosen carefully, the most exotic destinations may have the poorest human rights records. Sadly, sanctuary is limited to borders and once outside those borders, an individual who fears persecution, a refugee or former refugee may well be at risk. Careful advice is required before any travel is contemplated to ensure a dream destination doesn’t become detention