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World: Djokovic detention draws focus to Australia's asylum-seekers

Djokovic's detention becomes political issue in Australia

  Djokovic's detention becomes political issue in Australia SYDNEY (AP) — On a tennis court, Novak Djokovic’s timing is perfect. But when he arrived in Australia to play the first Grand Slam of the year holding documents allowing him to enter the country without a COVID-19 vaccine, his timing hardly could have been worse. When Djokovic landed in Melbourne on Wednesday he found himself in a city beset by surging virus cases. Border officials rejected Djokovic’s documentation, cancelled his visa and ordered him out of the country in a move that many Australians cheered. The tennis star's outspoken opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine struck a wrong note in a city where 92% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated.

SYDNEY (AP) — Novak Djokovic spent a fourth day on Sunday among the unwilling occupants of Melbourne's Park Hotel.

Protesters hold banners outside the Park Hotel calling for the release of refugees being detained inside in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. The world’s No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic is also being held there after border officials canceled his visa last week over a vaccine requirement. (AP Photo/Hamish Blair) © Provided by Associated Press Protesters hold banners outside the Park Hotel calling for the release of refugees being detained inside in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. The world’s No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic is also being held there after border officials canceled his visa last week over a vaccine requirement. (AP Photo/Hamish Blair)

The tennis superstar is awaiting court proceedings on Monday that will determine whether he can defend his Australian Open title or whether he will be deported — and the world has shown keen interest in his temporary accommodation.

EXPLAINER: How will Australian visa ruling impact Djokovic?

  EXPLAINER: How will Australian visa ruling impact Djokovic? As Novak Djokovic awaits a final decision on whether his visa will be revoked, all eyes have turned to Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke. He has to decide whether he will overturn the decision of a federal judge, who ruled Djokovic’s visa should be reinstated because he was unfairly treated by officials at the border. Hawke has discretion to revoke Djokovic’s visa but has taken longer than expected to reach a decision which has legal, political, sporting and diplomatic consequences.

His fellow residents in the immigration detention hotel include refugees and asylum-seekers who are challenging their own proceedings that have all lasted much longer than Djokovic's. So long in some cases they feel forgotten.

Djokovic's mere presence at the hotel, a squat and unattractive building on the leafy fringe of the city's downtown, has drawn the world's eyes to those other residents and their ongoing struggles with the Australian immigration system.

Refugee activists have been quick to capitalize on the media attention as one of the world’s most feted athletes shares the hotel and its sparse amenities with some of the world's most vulnerable and dispossessed people.

Protesters gather outside the Park Hotel in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. The world’s No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic is also being held there after border officials canceled his visa last week over a vaccine requirement. (AP Photo/Hamish Blair) © Provided by Associated Press Protesters gather outside the Park Hotel in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. The world’s No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic is also being held there after border officials canceled his visa last week over a vaccine requirement. (AP Photo/Hamish Blair)

Djokovic was denied entry at the Melbourne airport late Wednesday after border officials canceled his visa for failing to meet its entry requirement that all non-citizens be fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

Tennis Star Novak Djokovic Held in Guarded Room in Australia After Reported Visa Mix-Up

  Tennis Star Novak Djokovic Held in Guarded Room in Australia After Reported Visa Mix-Up Djokovic announced Tuesday that he had received a medical exemption to COVID vaccine requirements that would allow him to play in the upcoming Australian Open. © Juan Naharro/Getty Images for Lexus Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays a backhand against Marin Cilic of Croatia during the Davis Cup Semi Final match between Croatia and Serbia at Madrid Arena pavilion Monday in Madrid, Spain. Djokovic is reportedly being held in a room without being allowed to leave while an issue with his visa and a COVID vaccine medical exemption is figured out.

His lawyers filed court papers Saturday challenging the deportation that show Djokovic tested positive for COVID-19 last month and recovered, grounds he used in applying for a medical exemption to the country’s strict vaccination rules. A decision on his appeal is expected Monday.

Renata Voracova, a 38-year-old Czech doubles player, was detained in the same hotel over a vaccine dispute before leaving Australia on Saturday.

The Park Hotel was once a thriving tourist hotel, popular for its central location near Melbourne's network of trams and across the road from the home ground of the Carlton Australian Rules Football Club.

But for the past two years it has often been referred to as the “notorious” or “infamous” Park Hotel. At the outbreak of the pandemic it was a quarantine hotel for Australians returning from overseas and reportedly a source of a delta-variant outbreak that swept Melbourne and forced the city into months of lockdown while claiming hundreds of lives.

Vax-Mandate Protesters Gather in Australia to Back Detained Tennis Superstar Novak Djokovic

  Vax-Mandate Protesters Gather in Australia to Back Detained Tennis Superstar Novak Djokovic The protesters numbered about a dozen, and reportedly had an audience only of the police and a reporter.The group stationed itself outside of the facility, which is actually a quarantine hotel in Melbourne in which Djokovic, 34, must remain until his deportation. The protesters reportedly numbered only about one dozen people, and the only reported audience were a few reporters and some police officers standing outside the hotel.

Protesters gather outside the Park Hotel calling for the release of refugees being detained inside the hotel in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. The world’s No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic is also being held there after border officials canceled his visa last week over a vaccine requirement. (AP Photo/Hamish Blair) © Provided by Associated Press Protesters gather outside the Park Hotel calling for the release of refugees being detained inside the hotel in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. The world’s No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic is also being held there after border officials canceled his visa last week over a vaccine requirement. (AP Photo/Hamish Blair)

More recently it has been home to travelers of a different kind: refugees and asylum-seekers who have been transferred for medical reasons from Australia’s off-shore detention centers on Manus Island and Nauru in the Pacific.

There are 32 asylum-seekers sharing the hotel with Djokovic. Among them is Mehdi Ali of Iran who was 15 when he made the dangerous journey to Australia by boat. He had spent the past nine years in an off-shore processing facility for asylum-seekers and refugees, and was recently moved to the Park Hotel, where armed police guard the entrance and residents cannot leave.

Mehdi says the hotel is “like a jail” with its lengthy confinement, lack of fresh air and poor food.

Djokovic lawyers say COVID infection gave him Australia exemption

  Djokovic lawyers say COVID infection gave him Australia exemption In court filing, lawyers say tennis star contracted COVID-19 last month and was later granted a vaccine exemption.Djokovic was denied entry at the Melbourne airport after border officials cancelled his visa for failing to meet its entry requirement that all non-citizens be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

In October, a COVID-19 outbreak infected more than half of the hotel’s then 46 residents. In December, small fires broke out on one floor, residents were evacuated and one person was treated for smoke inhalation. Damage caused by the fires affected residents' access to outdoor exercise areas, and asylum-seekers frequently complain they are confined to their rooms.

Protesters stage a rally outside the Park Hotel calling for the release of refugees being detained inside the hotel in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. The world’s No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic is also being held there after border officials canceled his visa last week over a vaccine requirement.(AP Photo/Hamish Blair) © Provided by Associated Press Protesters stage a rally outside the Park Hotel calling for the release of refugees being detained inside the hotel in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. The world’s No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic is also being held there after border officials canceled his visa last week over a vaccine requirement.(AP Photo/Hamish Blair)

Refugee advocates regularly protest outside the hotel, mostly in small numbers and unnoticed by passersby. Djokovic’s sudden arrival has energized the protesters as they seek to draw global attention to the asylum-seekers and their treatment in Australia.

A protester holds a banner outside the Park Hotel calling for the release of refugees being detained inside the hotel in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. The world’s No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic is also being held there after border officials canceled his visa last week over a vaccine requirement.(AP Photo/Hamish Blair) © Provided by Associated Press A protester holds a banner outside the Park Hotel calling for the release of refugees being detained inside the hotel in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. The world’s No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic is also being held there after border officials canceled his visa last week over a vaccine requirement.(AP Photo/Hamish Blair)

An Amnesty International campaign manager, Shankar Kasynathan, was among several groups protesting outside the Park Hotel on Friday. One large group of Serbian-Australians protested Djokovic’s detention while another smaller group of protesters celebrated his opposition to vaccine mandates.

'I Am Extremely Disappointed': Novak Djokovic Reacts to Deportation From Australia

  'I Am Extremely Disappointed': Novak Djokovic Reacts to Deportation From Australia Here's what the 20-time Major champion had to say following losing his appeal hearing. Twenty-time Major singles champion Novak Djokovic left Australia on Sunday after losing a legal challenge against a decision which revoked his visa from the country for the second time. In a virtual hearing, three Federal Court judges unanimously dismissed Djokovic's application to overturn the immigration minister's decision to cancel his visa. He had hoped to remain in the country so that he could compete in the upcoming Australian Open, where he is the three-time defending champion and was set to play on Monday.

A protester hold a banner with others outside the Park Hotel calling for the release of refugees being detained inside the hotel in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. The world’s No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic is also being held there after border officials canceled his visa last week over a vaccine requirement. (AP Photo/Hamish Blair) © Provided by Associated Press A protester hold a banner with others outside the Park Hotel calling for the release of refugees being detained inside the hotel in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. The world’s No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic is also being held there after border officials canceled his visa last week over a vaccine requirement. (AP Photo/Hamish Blair)

“The world is watching at this point because we have one of the world’s most celebrated athletes ... under the same roof as the world’s most vulnerable people, namely refugees,” Kasynathan said.

“We hope that Novak Djokovic will use his influence, his support base to potentially put pressure on (Home Affairs Minister) Karen Andrews and the Australian government to end this senseless cruelty,” he added.

A refugee protester is surrounded by police outside the Park Hotel in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. The world’s No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic is also being held there after border officials canceled his visa last week over a vaccine requirement.(AP Photo/Hamish Blair) © Provided by Associated Press A refugee protester is surrounded by police outside the Park Hotel in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. The world’s No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic is also being held there after border officials canceled his visa last week over a vaccine requirement.(AP Photo/Hamish Blair)

Australia first introduced offshore processing at Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru in 2001 as part of its “Pacific Solution” to asylum-seekers and refugees attempting to reach Australia by boat, often with the help of traffickers. Offshore processing was suspended in 2008 but resumed in August 2012.

A protester holds a banner outside the Park Hotel calling for the release of refugees being detained inside the hotel in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. The world’s No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic is also being held there after border officials canceled his visa last week over a vaccine requirement. (AP Photo/Hamish Blair) © Provided by Associated Press A protester holds a banner outside the Park Hotel calling for the release of refugees being detained inside the hotel in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. The world’s No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic is also being held there after border officials canceled his visa last week over a vaccine requirement. (AP Photo/Hamish Blair)

Since July 2013, successive Australian governments have said no refugees will be resettled in Australia from Nauru or Manus Island. By mid-2021, about 1,000 refugees from the offshore centers had been resettled in other countries, including more than 900 in the United States.

Many in the offshore centers have been transferred back to Australia for medical reasons and have been detained at places like the Park Hotel.

Djokovic will be granted his freedom on Monday one way or another. If his legal challenge to the cancellation of his visa is successful he will be able to defend his Australian Open title next month. If not, he will have to return home.

For others at the Park Hotel there will be no such choice. Their wait will continue.

Djokovic detained ahead of Australian visa appeal .
The tennis star will hear on Sunday whether he can stay in the country and compete unvaccinated.The Serbian faces deportation after his visa was cancelled for a second time, with the government labelling the 34-year-old a threat to the public.

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