“Free Novac [sic]’ read the handwritten sign of a protester on a tennis racket. “Let Novac play.”
Tennis Australia was told in a letter as early as November 2021 that unvaccinated players with a recent Covid-19 infection would not be allowed to enter the country based on public health guidelines, Morrison told reporters on Thursday.
Djokovic’s legal team has won an urgent injunction against the decision, but it remains unclear whether the defending Australian Open men’s singles champion can compete in the tournament, which starts on January 17.
Djokovic’s lawyers are appealing the withdrawal of his visa and declined to comment ahead of his court hearing Monday.
But Djokovic’s situation has also highlighted the plight of asylum seekers in Australia. Although the tennis star will eventually either be allowed to play in the tournament or be forced to leave the country, other detainees in the same facility have been locked up for years – and are being held indefinitely under Australia’s strict immigration rules.
When dozens of protesters from different groups of the political spectrum gathered outside the Park Hotel on Friday, there was one thing that united them: the push for freedom.
Some came from Serbian cultural groups, singing and waving the flag of the Balkan country, and saw Djokovic’s detention as a grave injustice against one of the world’s greatest sports stars.
“I don’t see why he should be kept in a detention center,” said Tara, a 17-year-old Australian-Serbian junior tennis player, who did not give a last name. “Everyone has their own freedom of choice, vaccinated or not.”
Djokovic, who has won a record 20 men’s grand slam titles along with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, has not publicly disclosed his vaccination status but opposed Covid-19 vaccines and vaccine mandates in April 2020.
Others used Djokovic’s plight as an opportunity to criticize the way vaccine mandates had curtailed civil liberties.
One woman, who only called her name Matty for privacy reasons, said that if Djokovic went home she would not watch the Australian Open.
“I used to go every year — I can’t this year because of the vaccine mandates,” said Matty, adding that she is unvaccinated.
Another masked person, who refused to speak to DailyExpertNews, held a sign declaring Djokovic a “hostage of the communist state.”
But others turned their attention to the 30 or so refugees held at the hotel.
Previously used by the Australian government as a Covid-19 quarantine facility, the hotel has been an Alternative Place of Detention (APOD) for refugees and asylum seekers for at least a year.
Nearly a decade ago, Australia said asylum seekers arriving by boat would never settle in the country. Hundreds were housed in offshore processing centers for years, although some were sent to hotels in Australia to be treated for health problems.
The refugees still have little hope of freedom and the conditions in which they are held are extremely controversial. Tom Hardman, a 27-year-old teacher, stood in front of the Park Hotel, which is tagged with the words ‘liberate them’, and said he had come out to support the refugees.
“I’m here because the loneliness and heartbreak these men are suffering, not knowing when they will be released, is unbearable to watch,” he said.
Oscar Sterner, 25, said he was opposed to both anti-vaxxers and the way refugees were held in detention — and said the real problem was putting an unvaccinated visitor in a hotel with refugees seeking medical care. needed help.
“Djokovic is a millionaire bastard who has rightly aroused the ire of many people in Australia,” he said. “He can’t be bothered to get vaccinated to protect those around him.”
What it looks like inside
“It’s so dirty and the food is so terrible,” Dijana Djokovic told reporters on Thursday at a press conference in the Serbian capital, Belgrade. “It’s just not fair. It’s not human.”
American tennis star John Isner also tweeted in support of Djokovic, saying keeping him at the hotel was “not good”.
“There is no justification whatsoever for the treatment he is receiving. He followed the rules, was allowed to enter Australia, and now he is being held against his own will. This is such a shame.”
Australian Home Secretary Karen Andrews said on Friday that Djokovic is “not being held captive” and can leave the country whenever he wants.
“He is free to leave any time he chooses to do so and Border Force will actually facilitate that,” Andrews told ABC public broadcaster. “It is the individual traveler’s responsibility to ensure that they have all the necessary documentation required to enter Australia.”
Australian immigration laws allow an entry ban of up to three years after a visa cancellation under certain conditions – but it’s unclear whether Djokovic will face such a penalty.
In a statement Friday, the Professional Tennis Players Association said Djokovic had verified his well-being.
“With the utmost respect for all personal views on vaccinations, vaccinated athletes and unvaccinated athletes (with an approved medical exemption) should both be given the freedom to compete,” said the association, which was co-founded by Djokovic. “We will continue to support and advocate for our members and all players in a way that is acceptable to them.”
According to human rights lawyer Alison Battisson, who has four clients at the Park Hotel, visitors without the proper visa to Australia are normally handcuffed and transported to an immigration detention center in an unmarked van with darkened windows.
“It’s an incredibly traumatic and degrading process,” she said.
Video from the Park Hotel shared with DailyExpertNews shows detainees in small rooms with a double bed, TV and some chairs. Asylum seekers have access to a staircase that leads them to a roof where they can smoke. It is unclear whether Djokovic will remain in the same circumstances.
“This is a window, we can’t open it at any time,” Adnan Choopani, one of the detainees, said in a video filmed for DailyExpertNews.
While the hotel appears to be clean and well-maintained from the footage filmed by Choopani, there have been reports of problems in the past. According to Battison, there was a Covid outbreak at the facility last year and inmates have reported finding maggots in their food.
The other detainees
For the 30 or so refugees held in the hotel, the media attention for Djokovic is hard to swallow. Many have been trapped for years — with little hope of ever getting out.
Mehdi, who asked to use only one name to protect his family, escaped from Iran when he was 15 years old and has been in Australian detention for more than eight years with limited access to education or health care.
“I’ve served my time,” said Mehdi, who turned 24 on Friday. “We’re suffering, we’re exhausted and we’re tired… you’re stuck indefinitely, which means they can keep you as long as they want, as long as they want.”
Choopani said he and his fellow inmates just sat in their rooms, and many of them were taking depression medications. Choopani is Mehdi’s cousin, and he left Iran when he was also 15. He dreams of walking down the street or going out for a cup of coffee.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I think this is just a nightmare… we live in the 21st century, in a country that believes in democracy and still does this kind of behavior to innocent people.”
While it is unclear whether Djokovic will be allowed to play at Melbourne Park this month, the tennis star will eventually be let out of the hotel.
Craig Foster, a former Australian national team footballer who advocates for the asylum seekers, says he hopes at least something good can come out of the situation.
“On the one hand, it’s good for the world to see how Australia treats our newcomers, whether they’re asylum seekers or refugees, or even an athlete like Novak, who apparently just got into trouble with the documentation on his visa, ” he said.
“If anything, we hope this whole embarrassing saga will put Australians in a position to better understand the plight of these people.”