Djokovic’s detention draws attention to Australian asylum seekers



Protesters wave banners outside the Park Hotel calling for the release of refugees detained inside Melbourne, Australia on Saturday, January 8, 2022. World number 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic is also being held there after he was detained there. border officials canceled his visa last week over a vaccine requirement. (AP Photo / Hamish Blair)


Novak Djokovic spent a fourth day on Sunday among reluctant occupants of the Park Hotel in Melbourne.

The tennis superstar awaits court proceedings on Monday that will determine whether he can defend his Australian Open title or be sent off – and the world has shown strong interest in his temporary accommodation.

His fellow citizens in the immigrant detention hotel include refugees and asylum seekers who challenge their own procedures which all took much longer than Djokovic’s. So long, in some cases, they feel forgotten.

Djokovic’s mere presence at the hotel, a squat and unappealing building on the leafy outskirts of the city center, caught the world’s eyes on these other residents and their ongoing struggles with Australia’s immigration system.

Refugee activists quickly capitalized on media attention as one of the world’s most celebrated athletes shares the hotel and its scarce amenities with some of the world’s most vulnerable and dispossessed people.

Djokovic was refused entry at Melbourne Airport on Wednesday evening after border officials canceled his visa for failing to meet his entry requirement that all non-nationals must be fully vaccinated against the COVID-19.

His lawyers on Saturday filed court documents challenging the deportation which show Djokovic tested positive for COVID-19 last month and recovered, a ground he used to seek medical exemption from the country’s strict vaccination rules. country. A decision on his appeal is expected Monday.

Renata Voracova, a 38-year-old Czech doubles player, was detained at the same hotel over a dispute over a vaccine before leaving Australia on Saturday.

The Park Hotel was once a thriving tourist hotel, appreciated for its central location near Melbourne’s tram network and opposite the home ground of the Carlton Australian Rules Football Club.

But over the past couple of years, it has often been referred to as a “notorious” or “infamous” Park Hotel. At the start of the pandemic, it was a quarantine hotel for Australians returning from overseas and was said to have been the source of a delta variant outbreak that swept through Melbourne and forced the city into months of lockdowns while making hundreds of deaths.

More recently, it has welcomed travelers of a different kind: refugees and asylum seekers who have been medically transferred from Australian offshore detention centers on Manus Island and Nauru in the Pacific.

There are 32 asylum seekers who share the hotel with Djokovic. Among them, Iranian Mehdi Ali, who was 15 when he made the dangerous boat trip to Australia. He had spent the past nine years in an offshore processing center for asylum seekers and refugees, and was recently transferred to the Park Hotel, where armed police guard the entrance and residents cannot exit.

Mehdi says the hotel is “like a prison” with its prolonged confinement, lack of fresh air and bad food.

In October, a COVID-19 outbreak infected more than half of the hotel’s 46 residents. In December, small fires broke out on one floor, residents were evacuated and one person was treated for smoke inhalation. Damage from the fires affected residents’ access to outdoor exercise areas, and asylum seekers frequently complain of being confined to their rooms.

Refugee advocates regularly demonstrate in front of the hotel, mostly in small numbers and unnoticed by passers-by. The sudden arrival of Djokovic has energized protesters as they seek to bring worldwide attention to asylum seekers and their treatment in Australia.

Amnesty International campaign manager Shankar Kasynathan was among several groups protesting outside the Park Hotel on Friday. A large group of Serbian-Australians protested Djokovic’s detention while another smaller group of protesters celebrated his opposition to the vaccination warrants.

“The world is watching right now because we have one of the most famous athletes in the world… under the same roof as the world’s most vulnerable people, namely refugees,” Kasynathan said.

“We hope that Novak Djokovic will use his influence, his base of support to potentially put pressure on (Home Secretary) Karen Andrews and the Australian government to end this senseless cruelty,” he added.

Australia first introduced offshore processing on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru in 2001 as part of its ‘Pacific solution’ for asylum seekers and refugees attempting to reach Australia by boat, often with the help of traffickers. At-sea processing was suspended in 2008 but resumed in August 2012.

Since July 2013, successive Australian governments have declared that no refugees will be resettled to Australia from Nauru or Manus Island. By mid-2021, around 1,000 refugees from offshore centers had been resettled in other countries, including more than 900 in the United States.

Many in the offshore centers have been returned to Australia for medical reasons and have been held in places like the Park Hotel.

Djokovic will be released on Monday one way or another. If his legal challenge to his visa cancellation is successful, he will be able to defend his title at the Australian Open next month. Otherwise, he will have to go home.

For others at the Park Hotel, this choice will not exist. Their wait will continue.

This story was originally published January 9, 2022 1:03 am.


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