The temporary detention of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic in a hotel-turned-prison in Melbourne attracted tremendous media attention both within Australia and internationally. After winning the legal battle against his detention on Monday, December 10, Djokovic is going ahead to prepare for the Australian Open, the purpose of his arrival in the country.
But at the Park Hotel, where Djokovic was held for barely five days, there are dozens of inmates, some of whom have been languishing for years. They are unsure of how long they will remain there or if they will be further detained in other immigrant prisons within or outside Australia.
Park Hotel, which has been used as an immigrant detention facility by the Australian Border Force (ABF) since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, currently houses 36 inmates who were previously detained for years in Australia’s controversial offshore detention facilities. Most of them were evacuated from those offshore prisons for medical reasons, but they are not allowed to leave the Melbourne hotel.
Many of the inmates have been under continuous detention in one form or another for nearly a decade. All of them are asylum-seekers who tried to land in Australia on boats after making perilous journeys fleeing wars and violence. Most of them hail from West and South Asian countries and include people who were detained by Australia as minors and have come of age under detention.
More than 200 protesters gathered outside the Park Hotel in Carlton on Sunday as the Djokovic case raged on. While one part of the demonstration was in support of the tennis star, another group gathered to highlight the plight of the other inmates.
The pro-refugee demonstration on Sunday was organized by the Victoria State chapter of the Refugee Action Collective (RAC), with the organizers emphasizing that they were not there for Djokovic. The refugee rights advocates found Djokovic’s detention at the hotel an opportunity to shine light on Australia’s long-standing policy of locking up refugees without due process.
“The farce that has surrounded Djokovic’s visa cancellation has given an insight into the abuse of power involved in the administration of the Migration Act (under which the refugees are being detained),” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, in a statement released on Monday.
“The untrammeled powers of the Migration Minister allows the Border Force to be judge, jury and executioner. It is those powers that have enshrined indefinite detention as a sentence for people who have committed no crime,” Rintoul added.
“We want to see an end to the system of mandatory detention and a new policy of welcoming people in need and giving them safe shelter,” said David Glanz, spokesperson of the RAC, at Sunday’s rally.
But as Djokovic is released, the little coverage and attention that the refugees received from various outlets has already begun to vanish. In a Facebook post, the RAC stated that there is an “overwhelming feeling of disappointment at the Park Hotel. The media left when Djokovic left. He was only there a few days, but refugees have been under the control of the Australian government for 9 years.”
“We need to keep supporting everyone in detention. No one should allow these people to go back to being alone and forgotten,” the post added.
For close to a decade, Australia’s policy has led to the detention of hundreds of refugees in offshore prisons, usually in overseas territories controlled by Australia or in countries like Nauru and Papua New Guinea. According to figures by Australia’s Department of Home Affairs, as of September 2021, at least 108 people are being held within Australia in hotels and hospitals called alternative places of detention (APODs).
The Park Hotel facility has been particularly controversial for unsafe living conditions and the treatment of the inmates. Just days before the Djokovic controversy broke out, reports emerged of inmates complaining of being served food with maggots and mold. In December 2021, multiple fires broke out in the hotel, leading to at least one detainee being hospitalized.