By Emily Dickinson-Holdcroft, BA Social Anthropology
Serbian tennis player, Novak Djokovic, has continued to dominate many news headlines this week with his refusal to confirm his vaccination status in order to play at the Australian Open. He initially flew to Australia with a ‘vaccine exemption’, arriving in Melbourne on 5 January, 2022 and was denied entry to the country.
Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, has spoken publicly requiring Djokovic to present sufficient medical reasoning as to why he has not been vaccinated, or otherwise face deportation as his visa does not allow for medical exemptions.
Djokovic spent five days in hotel quarantine at the Park Hotel, which has been acting as a detention centre for asylum seekers for many years. After this, Judge Anthony Kelly ruled that the Australian government pay visa costs and Djokovic to be released from detention within thirty minutes.
Despite this apparent success, four days later immigration officer, Minister Alex Hawke, reestablished the penalty. Although Djokovic appealed the decision once more, he lost his judicial review against the visa cancellation in his Sunday hearing and has since been deported from Australia. This deportation ruling also included a three year ban on applying for Australian visas, extending the consequences of Djokovic’s ‘anti-vaxxer’ sentiment.
Whilst Djokovic has brought to light an interesting discussion surrounding vaccine mandates and their social, legal consequences, his situation also highlighted those indefinitely stuck in Australian detention centres.
Many publications such as the Guardian, the BBC, and the NY Times have spoken to some of the 32 asylum seekers who are detained in the hotel described as a ‘torture cell’. Many of those that are currently living in the hotel were brought to Australia in 2019 from offshore processing islands under temporary medevac laws, having already been detained for a number of years.
Reports of the hotel have exposed deteriorating, inhumane conditions including meals with maggots being served to detainees, as well as a number of fires breaking out and causing harm to those inside.
During the pandemic the hotel was reported to be the centre of the outbreak of a second Covid-19 wave in Victoria, as well as a more recent Covid-19 outbreak in October and November that led to detainees testing positive and at times needing to be hospitalised.
The contrast between the outrage of Djokovic’s detention – first revised after just five days and acted on in the space of half an hour – in comparison to those detained for almost a decade, highlights the stark, unjust reality for those legally seeking safety.
Australia is a signatory of the UN refugee convention and in need of migrants to continue building its economy. Despite this, immigration policies are aggressive and harmful.
The government has been transferring asylum seekers offshore to Papua New Guinea and Nauru since 2012 yet most residents have been offered no settlement options. One asylum seeker reported being illegally detained from 2013 to 2021, revealing the clear negligence and disregard for individuals. The consequences of these environments are drastic, leading to hunger strikes, self-harm, suicide, medical negligence deaths and endless rights violations.
Human Rights Watch spoke on the matter in July 2021 stating that ‘Australia’s abusive offshore processing policy has caused immeasurable suffering for thousands of vulnerable asylum seekers’, with similar criticisms coming from Amnesty International and many refugee activists.
“It is the hope of many of the detainees at the Park Hotel, that Djokovic’s brief scandal will bring attention to their indefinite, illegal detention and provide needed momentum for their freedom”
Despite this negative commentary surrounding Australian immigration policies, it has been highlighted how many Australian elections have been won and lost over the topic of ‘boat people’, using the campaign ‘stop the boats’ to win over voters. The shameless use of asylum seekers as political pawns continues to be a common trend as politicians promote illusional fear surrounding ‘extremism’. It is the hope of many of the detainees at the Park Hotel, that Djokovic’s brief scandal will bring attention to their indefinite, illegal detention and provide needed momentum for their freedom.
Photo Caption: Novak Djokovic at the 2001 Australian Open (Credit: Wikimedia Commons).