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Djokovic case exposes unfair treatment of refugees in Australia

Media release

11 January 2022 

Statement by Paul Power CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia

Djokovic case exposes unfair treatment of refugees in Australia

Novak Djokovic’s detention and subsequent speedy appeal process contrasts starkly with the ongoing and prolonged inhumane treatment of refugees in Australia’s migration system.

Refugees seeking asylum in Australian airports don’t even get access to lawyers before they are put on the next flight out of Australia, let alone a chance to argue their case.

Djokovic, on the other hand, had access to a team of lawyers who were able to lodge an urgent injunction preventing him from being deported.

Refugees don’t have access to review or procedural fairness, whereas Djokovic arrived on January 5 – and by January 10 had had his case heard and appeal granted.

UN Special Rapporteur for Migration, Felipe Gonzalez succinctly exposed the horrible double-standard suffered by refugees who arrive in Australia, exercising their internationally-recognised legal right to seek sanctuary from dangerous situations.

Gonzalez said on Twitter: “Novak Djokovic, who is neither a migrant or an asylum-seeker, got what human rights organizations have repeatedly asked Governments for migrants and asylum-seekers: that deportations should be suspended until a judicial decision is issued.”

Djokovic was detained in Melbourne’s Park Hotel, alongside refugees whom the Australian Government has kept in detention for over nine years.

Djokovic could have voluntarily left detention and returned home at any stage. But refugees detained by Australia have fled war and persecution – they cannot go home unless they want to put themselves and their families in extreme danger.

Indefinite, arbitrary detention is a violation of international human rights law, yet Australia continues this practice without serious repercussion.

It is disappointing that it has taken the detention of a tennis player to highlight Australia’s ongoing practice of mandatory detention on the world stage.

The people detained alongside Djokovic have not committed any crime, nor had their visa cancelled. They have been detained indefinitely simply for seeking asylum in Australia.

While the world watches with concern how Djokovic is treated, let us consider the plight of those still locked up where Djokovic spent a few days.

The worst that was ever going to happen to Djokovic is that he wouldn’t get to play tennis. The stakes are life and death for the refugees with whom he was briefly a neighbour.

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