Djokovic’s Immigration Detention is Nothing about Covid and Everything about a Humanitarian Crisis

BY ZACH ROBERTS


People protested in front of Park Hotel, where Djokovic was detained, to draw attention to refugees who have been detained there for years.


Ahead of the Australian Open, Men’s Tennis World Number 1, Novak Djokovic was detained and stripped of his visa by Australian Border Control over a row about his vaccination status, and therefore his right to stay in the country in line with its COVID-19 policies.


He was subsequently confined to Park Hotel in Melbourne, an establishment developing an infamous reputation for its role in the detainment of those seeking refuge in Australia. Djokovic’s parents condemned the accommodation’s conditions, claiming he was being treated like a prisoner, while there was a mass protest full of Australian-Serbs or Anti-Vax supporters demanding his release.


The real issue, however, has nothing to do with Djokovic. His experience has merely shifted the focus back onto Australia’s deplorable treatment of undocumented migrants. The Human Rights Watch called Australia's treatment of asylum seekers “inhumane, deeply cruel & illegal under international law".


One detainee of Park Hotel, Mehdi Ali, was grateful for the media attention highlighting their mistreatment but was realistic when admitting that the world would once again move on from the issue once Djokovic was released.


There was uproar when he had to spend a mere matter of days in one of these facilities, while in contrast, Chris Breen, an activist part of the Refugee Action Collective, highlighted the fact that it is the "indefinite nature of their detention" that is the biggest issue facing detainees at Park Hotel.


Mostafa "Moz" Azimitabar, a Kurdish refugee, who was in immigration detention for over a year, including two months at Park Hotel, described to BBC News that his room there, which he shared with one person, was like a “coffin", where windows were bolted shut, and he was forced to stay inside for up to 23 hours a day. Additionally, in 2020, there was a COVID outbreak that infected over half of the refugees and staff.


Another refugee, Mohammad Joy Miah, shared with BBC News a picture of maggots in his food and claimed that the guards only took the food away once he had eaten a few of them: "Whatever they give us, we must eat it to stay alive. The food is totally bad."


The worst part about all of this is that it is not a new revelation. Facilities like these have been part of Australia’s border control policy for years, including a range of offshore facilities on regional islands surrounding Australia. In 2016, one of such facilities located on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG), was ordered to close after having been deemed illegal by the country’s supreme court, and the Australian government had to pay $70 million to those illegally detained. The process took years, and only at the end of 2021 did the facility close completely. Yet, another one of these still exists on the island of Nauru.


Of course, we could just sit back and breathe a sigh of relief that this practice is not replicated here in the UK, but we cannot afford to be so complacent. Priti Patel’s proposed Nationality and Borders bill includes plans to introduce a similar offshore set-up to Australia’s existing model. While it is mutually agreed amongst many that firmer action needs to be taken to combat those who cruelly trade on peoples’ lives, legislation like this fails to act on those facilitating human trafficking and instead disproportionately affects those desperate enough to cross borders and seas in seek of refuge.


Leaving asylum seekers to rot in detention facilities with prison-like living conditions, inadequate food, and a lack of basic amenities is not just cruel but inhumane. The Novak Djokovic press attention only demonstrates how the media holds refugees and asylum seekers in such low, sub-human regard, and there is no hope in addressing the problems at their core unless this changes. The current measures and those being discussed do not fix the problem. Further illegalising the process of border or channel crossings are not a valid deterrent to those so desperate to escape whatever kind of environment they are escaping.


The conditions in these facilities may seem blissful to those escaping some of the most horrifying environments, but that does not make their treatment acceptable. It further reinforces the idea that refugees and asylum seekers are somehow inferior to the citizens of the state they are seeking refuge in. Ultimately, they too are human and must be treated as such at an absolute minimum. The global view of the immigration problem is simply focusing on the wrong aspects and thus creating the ‘solutions’ that don’t address the real problems, currently at the expense of thousands of refugees worldwide.


Image: Flickr (Matt Hrkac)