Novak Djokovic’s fans are fighting to get him out of his hotel. Inside, refugees wonder if they’ll ever leave

“Free money [sic]”He read a protester’s handwritten sign taped to a tennis racket.” Let Novac play. “

Tennis Australia was warned in a letter from November 2021 that players not vaccinated with a recent Covid-19 infection would not be able to enter the country under public health guidelines, Morrison told reporters on Thursday.

Djokovic’s legal team won an urgent court order against the decision, but it is unclear whether the reigning Australian Open champion will be able to compete in the tournament, which begins on January 17.

Djokovic’s lawyers are appealing the cancellation of his visa and declined to comment before his court hearing on Monday.

Your case has gone far beyond an individual visa issue. It has drawn the ire of people who feel the rich and powerful are getting an easy ride when it comes to Australia’s strict Covid-19 rules, which have seen families separated for years, but it also angers anti-vaccines. who believe coronavirus restrictions are invading. your civil liberties. And it has raised concerns in Australia’s Serbian community, some of whom say Djokovic is being unfairly targeted.

But Djokovic’s situation has also highlighted the plight of asylum seekers in Australia. While the tennis star will eventually be able to play in the tournament or be forced to leave the country, other detainees at the same facility have been locked up for years and face indefinite detention under Australia’s strict immigration rules.

Widespread outrage

When dozens of protesters from disparate groups across the political spectrum gathered in front of the Park Hotel on Friday, there was one thing that brought them together: the drive for freedom.

Some were from Serbian cultural groups, singing and waving the flag of the Balkan country, who saw Djokovic’s arrest as a great injustice against one of the biggest sports stars in the world.

“I don’t see why he should be trapped in a detention center,” said Tara, a 17-year-old Australian-Serbian tennis player, who did not give her last name. “Everyone has their own freedom of choice, vaccinated or not.”

Djokovic, who is tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for a record 20 men’s individual grand slam titles, has not publicly disclosed his vaccination status, but voiced his opposition to Covid-19 vaccines and vaccination mandates in April. 2020.

A general view of the government detention center, the Park Hotel.

Others used Djokovic’s plight as an opportunity to criticize how vaccine mandates had restricted civil liberties.

One woman, who gave her name only as Matty for privacy reasons, said that if Djokovic went home, he 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 not vaccinated.

Another masked person, who declined to speak to CNN, was holding a sign declaring Djokovic “hostage to the communist state.”

But others turned their attention to the roughly 30 refugees held at the hotel.

Authorities detain another top tennis player for visa problems ahead of Australian Open

Formerly 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 that no asylum seeker arriving by boat would settle in the country. Hundreds were housed in overseas processing centers for years, although some were sent to hotels in Australia to receive treatment for health problems.

Refugees still have little hope of freedom, and the conditions in which they find themselves are highly controversial. Standing in front of the Park Hotel, which is labeled with the words “free them,” Tom Hardman, a 27-year-old teacher, said he had voiced his support for the refugees.

“I am here because it is unbearable to witness the loneliness and pain these men suffer from not knowing when they will be released,” he said.

Police stand guard at the government detention center.

Oscar Sterner, 25, said he was opposed to both anti-vaccines and the way refugees were being detained, and said the real problem was putting an unvaccinated visitor in a hotel with refugees in need. medical care.

“Djokovic is a millionaire bastard who has rightly drawn the ire of a lot of people in Australia,” he said. “You can’t be bothered to get vaccinated to protect the people around you.”

As it is inside

Djokovic’s supporters have criticized his treatment, with the tennis star’s mother saying her son is being “treated like a prisoner.”

“It is so dirty and the food is so terrible,” Dijana Djokovic told reporters Thursday at a press conference in the Serbian capital Belgrade. “It’s not fair. It’s not human.”

American tennis star John Isner also tweeted in support of Djokovic, saying that keeping him at the hotel was “not right.”

“There is no justification for the treatment he is receiving. He followed the rules, was allowed into Australia and is now being detained against his own will. It is a disgrace.”

Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said on Friday that Djokovic is “not a captive” and can leave the country at any time.

“He’s free to go anytime he wants and the Border Force will really facilitate that,” Andrews told public broadcaster ABC. “It is the responsibility of the individual traveler to ensure that they have all the necessary documentation to enter Australia.”

Australian immigration laws allow a ban on re-entry into the country for up to three years after a visa is canceled under certain conditions, but it is unclear whether Djokovic will face such a penalty.

In a statement on Friday, the Professional Tennis Players Association said Djokovic had verified his well-being.

“With the utmost respect for all personal views on vaccinations, vaccinated and unvaccinated athletes (with an approved medical exemption) should have 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.”

Australia promised not to allow these men to settle on its soil.  Some just got visas

According to human rights lawyer Alison Battisson, who has four clients inside the Park Hotel, visitors without the correct visa to Australia are typically handcuffed and transported to an immigration detention center in an unmarked van with windows.

“It is an incredibly traumatic and dehumanizing process,” he said.

Video from the Park Hotel shared with CNN shows detainees in small rooms that include a double bed, a television and some chairs. Asylum seekers have access to a staircase that leads them to a rooftop where they can smoke. It is not clear if Djokovic remains in the same condition.

“This is a window, we cannot open it at any time,” said Adnan Choopani, one of the detainees, in a video filmed for CNN.

While the hotel appears clean and well-kept in the footage shot 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 detainees have reported finding worms in food.

The other detainees

For the 30 or so refugees detained at the hotel, the media attention on Djokovic is hard to swallow. Many have been detained for years and have little hope of ever getting out.

Mehdi, who asked to use only one name to protect his family, escaped Iran when he was 15 years old and has been detained in Australia for more than eight years with limited access to education or health care.

“I have already served my sentence,” said Mehdi, who turned 24 on Friday. “We are suffering, we are exhausted and weary … you are in indefinite detention, which means they can hold you for as long as they can, for as long as they want.”

Cousins ​​Adnan Choopani and Mehdi were 15 years old when they fled Iran.  Now, they are 24 years old and still in immigration detention.

Choopani said that he and his fellow detainees were sitting in their rooms, and many of them were taking medication for depression. Choopani is Mehdi’s cousin and left Iran when he was also 15 years old. He dreams of taking a walk down the street or going out for 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 continues to do this kind of behavior with innocent people.”

Although it is unclear if Djokovic will be able to play at Melbourne Park this month, the tennis star will finally be able to leave the hotel.

Craig Foster, a former Australian national team footballer who defends asylum seekers, says he hopes at least something good can come out of the situation.

“In a way, it’s good for the world to see how Australia has treated our newcomers, be they asylum seekers or refugees, or even an athlete like Novak who has apparently come into conflict with their visa documentation, ” he said.

“If anything, we hope that this entire shameful saga will put Australians in a position where they better understand the plight of these people.”

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