Djokovic set free from detention, but what does this mean for the refugees left behind?
13 January 2022 at 8:28 am
Refugee advocates hope that the saga will highlight the flaws in Australia’s immigration policies
For the past week, all eyes have been on the unfolding detention saga of the world’s number one men’s tennis player, Novak Djokovic. But advocates say there is now an opportunity to raise awareness of the men left languishing behind.
Since the beginning of 2020, refugee advocates have protested outside Melbourne’s Park Hotel, where over 30 men are being detained indefinitely.
The majority of people in the Alternative Place Of Detention (hotels or motels across Australia used by the government to house immigration detainees instead of larger facilities) are recognised refugees and were transferred from processing centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru for urgent medical treatment.
In December 2019, the Australian Human Rights Commission said the motels were not appropriate places of detention, given their lack of dedicated facilities and restrictions on freedom of movement and access to open space.
But when a sudden visa cancellation landed Djokovic inside the detention centre, a new group of protesters and international media followed, shining a spotlight on the poor conditions of the detention centre.
The unlikely alliance ended on Monday night however, as a court ordered Djokovic’s release from immigration detention after quashing the Australian government’s decision to cancel his visa.
Advocates hold onto hope
While Djokovic was able to walk free after only a few days, advocates said that there was now an opportunity to pressure the Australian government into releasing the remaining men.
“Djokovic got a brief glimpse of what refugees have been experiencing for years because of the Australian government’s shameful refugee policies,” Amnesty International Australia refugee advisor Dr Graham Thom said.
“If something positive can come from this saga it’s that a global spotlight has again shone on this dreadful situation which is in violation of international law and which has seen the suffering and death of people whose only ‘crime’ was to seek safety on Australian shores.”
The Time for a Home campaign, made up of over 140 advocacy groups including Amnesty International Australia and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, has successfully advocated for the release of nearly 200 refugees from APOD centres in just two years.
Ogy Simic, the ASRC’s advocacy manager, told Pro Bono News that the attention drawn to the campaign was enough to get the other men released.
“Many of these men have no access to the outdoors, they have had instances of bed bugs, the conditions are absolutely appalling and it’s just really unthinkable that this is happening in Australia,” he said.
“But we have seen a lot of success in the campaign over the last couple of years and we really hope that this further attention that has been created around the issue will mean the rest of the people are set free.”
He said that it was important to seize the moment and not let the opportunity go to waste.
“We are really encouraging people to get involved, by signing petitions, and continuing to protest,” he said.
“Djokovic’s case really highlighted that this could all end tomorrow if the minister for home affairs wanted it to, so we’ve just got to keep on pushing.”