Djokovic Detained With Refugees and Visa Revoked to Make Tough Border Statement

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Detained refugees

The Novak Djokovic saga raises a lot of questions. The initial one being, would the Morrison government have locked up the world number one tennis champion if he’d been a citizen from a predominantly white English-speaking country?

Then there’s, why, after a court had ruled to reinstate his cancelled visa, the immigration minister continues to have such broad powers under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth), that he can still override that ruling and again cancel the visa, citing, in Djokovic’s case, “health and good order grounds”?

And further, there was the decision to detain the sports star in Melbourne’s Park Hotel. These days serving as an immigration prison, the former accommodation centre is the place where the Morrison government has dumped dozens of Medevac refugees since December 2020.

Today, 32 former offshore detainees remain inside. These men fled persecution in their homelands a decade ago, and now, they’re moving into their ninth year in Australian immigration detention.

The Park had its windows sealed when the government placed these men in there. And when 20 of the then 46 detainees tested positive for COVID last October, the government kept them all inside the same cloistered building.

One night of late, the refugees were even served up maggot and mould ridden food for dinner.

And, while its true Morrison has made some serious miscalculations – such as letting Omicron rip to the detriment of the economy, as well as the public health – it would seem that locking the tennis champ up with tortured refugees was not one of them, as it was designed to send a tough on borders message.

Mind you, Djokovic is the same man who – as ATP Player Council President in 2020 – not only organised the donation of A$725,000 to help with Australia’s bushfire relief effort, but donated a further A$25,000 of his own money for the same cause.

Indefinite detention

While the overwhelming majority of the focus has been on Djokovic, some international media took the opportunity to focus on the long-term detainees inside the hotel.

Indeed, the local immigration regime being presented through a foreign lens brought its brutality back through afresh.

As she interviewed 24-year-old Iranian refugee Mehdi Ali, Democracy Now host Amy Goodman referred to his prison as the “Park so-called hotel”, whilst he told her that he’s been detained by Australia since he was 15 years old and that he’s already been granted refugee status.

Ali further set out that despite threatening otherwise, around 90 percent of asylum seekers who came here by boat after 19 July 2013 have since been resettled in this country or overseas. And the dozens who still remain in detention have no idea why they’ve been singled out.

“I don’t know why,” Ali said before the global audience the US program captures. “It could be for the sake of a policy, so they can point their fingers at us as sacrifices, and no one giving us any deadline and no one telling us when we get out of this indefinite detention.”

It’s just not cricket

The Pentecostal PM not only wears his religion on his sleeve, but he likes to let the barbarity he treats asylum seekers with rest there as well. It’s well known that he keeps a trophy in the shape of a boat in his office that states, “I Stopped These”.

These boats the PM brags about turning away are full of children, women and men, who didn’t have the advantage of being born a white man in Sydney. Rather these people have been dealt such a hard lot that they’re willing to risk it all, hoping a wealthy nation like Australia might save them.

So, it would seem that in placing Djokovic in the same immigration detention centre as the long-term refugees, the increasingly authoritarian Morrison government may have just been flaunting its barbarity to the rest of the planet.

Image from Mehdi Ali’s Twitter account

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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