Fans denounce Australia’s treatment of Novak Djokovic amid Visa Row
Dozens of anti-vaccine protesters joined ardent Novak Djokovic fans on Saturday to dance, sing and speak out against the conditions the superstar endures in a notorious immigrant detention center. As some 200 protesters gathered outside, the world’s number one men’s tennis player spent his third day at the former Park Hotel in Melbourne, which is now home to some 32 people under the strict immigration policy of Australia. Djokovic received a rude welcome at Melbourne airport on Wednesday evening: his lawyers claim border control officers detained him for eight hours before canceling his visa and sending him to the facility.
Prisoners cannot leave the building and no one is allowed to enter or leave, except staff.
The five-story center gained notoriety last year when a fire forced migrants to be evacuated and maggots were reportedly found in the food.
But requests from the nine-time Australian Open champion to be moved to another facility so he can train for the tournament as he appeals the visa decision have fallen on hearing deaf, according to his lawyers.
“Can you imagine what the mother is going through – the prisoner son?” Raymond Stankovic, a 47-year-old protester, asked outside the building.
“You know he has a strict diet and everything and the food they give him, you just probably wouldn’t give your dog certain things. There are probably cockroaches and stuff.”
A migrant rights activist, however, lamented the lack of attention given to refugees compared to the intense media focus on Djokovic.
“I’m a little disgusted, to be honest, that it took Djokovic here to bring attention to the plight of the refugees,” said Asher Preston, 34.
“Compared to what Djokovic is faced with for a few days or whatever, what the refugees go through here for years is, you know, quite excruciating,” he added.
“It kind of disgusts me that the media largely ignored it, to be honest,” Preston said. “And yet the politicians get away with absolutely mistreating the refugees.”
The day started in the drizzle with a dozen immigrant and refugee rights activists as well as fans of the 34-year-old Serb.
But in the afternoon, dozens of people protesting against Covid-19 vaccination warrants joined, many withdrew from a separate demonstration in another part of town.
In front of the center, they waved flags and held up signs saying “No more locking, vax or unvax”; “Stand up now or kneel forever”; and “Push back! Do not comply! “
Children and families also participated.
“I want to say to him, ‘Hold on Novak. We are with you,'” said Lisa Pavicevic, 63.
“He is setting a good example. He could have taken a first class flight to Serbia but he is fighting for his beliefs.”
The other protesters joined in a form of Serbian line dancing.
At the anti-vaccination rally elsewhere in town, there were signs of support for the tennis ace.
“I don’t want to see my grandchildren vaccinated,” said Margaret Beacham, a 67-year-old former schoolteacher.
“Novak is taking a stand and this is a global opportunity for him to say something about immunization status and how ridiculous it is.”
Over the main door of Djokovic’s temporary Australian home, graffiti in yellow paint read: “Free them all.”
A few steps away, a protester wearing a cap, headphones and an antiviral mask held up a sign: “Aussie Open? More like Australians who endlessly abuse refugees.”
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