“The hardest months are December and January, because from the windows of our rooms at the Park hotel we see people celebrating with their loved ones the arrival of another year in which we are kept away from ours. Those just passed were the ninth Christmas and the ninth New Year that I spent as a prisoner “. The writer is Mehdi Ali, an Iranian refugee who lives in the same hotel in Melbourne, used by the Australian authorities as a detention center for irregular immigrants, where Novak Djokovic was staying until the morning of 10 January. The world tennis number one hoped to participate in the Australian Open but had not come to terms with the immigration rules imposed by Canberra during the pandemic (without a vaccine you cannot enter, even if you have been positive for covid in the last six months, as happened to the tennis player) and with the confused application of the rules by the various responsible authorities.
On January 10, the court agreed that Djokovic was right, because when he was stopped at the airport the authorities did not give him time to ask for advice on what to do. The story is complex and brings together various factors: the arrogance of a champion who, legitimately choosing not to vaccinate against covid-19, does not want to take responsibility for this choice by avoiding participating in tournaments; the malfunction of a bureaucratic machine in which the actors are different (the Australian tennis federation, which granted Djokovic an exemption from the vaccination obligation to participate in the tournament, an exemption that does not guarantee permission to enter the country; the state of Victoria, which says it has its hands tied because it does not decide on the entrances to the border; and the federal government, which controls the borders and which on January 6 had transferred the furious tennis player to the detention center to wait to hear what he would say today the judge he addressed); a communication that does not always work; a prime minister who if he had given special treatment to Djokovic (as it seemed to many when the tennis player, leaving for Australia, announced on Instagram that he had had an exemption) would have risked attracting the arrows of a population exhausted by lockdowns (the inhabitants of Melbourne have broken the world record for days in seclusion) and very annoyed by the many “exceptions” to the rules that emerged in two years of pandemic (always celebrities or very rich people).
Regardless of how it will turn out (the court agreed Djokovic was right, but the immigration minister reserves the right to cancel the tennis player’s visa again), this story has already produced something: it has shed light, albeit indirectly , on Australia’s ruthless treatment of irregular immigrants and asylum seekers. Djokovic’s case has nothing to do with the rigid rules that Canberra adopts with immigrants who arrive without a visa. But by making him stay at the Park hotel – a facility used for inmates from the offshore centers of Nauru, Manus island, and Christmas island who for medical reasons are temporarily transferred to Australia – to prove that “the law is the same for everyone”, the authorities raised the veil over Australia’s shameful immigration system, which Mehdi Ali’s words effectively describe:
I arrived in Australia alone when I was 15. I asked this country for help. I was a kid who needed a safe place to live. Instead they locked me up for eight years, with no access to adequate health care or education. I have been deprived of my fundamental rights. I am considered a threat because I fled my country and arrived on a boat. I’m serving a sentence without committing any crime, just for this cruel system. There is no justice for me. Most of the people who have arrived since 2013 have been released, except for a handful of us used as political pawns. We are being held here to prevent the boats from starting to arrive again. The law tells us that minors must be detained for as short a time as possible, but I grew up in this cage. I only ask for justice. I don’t want to survive anymore. I just want to live “.