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Saturday, January 22, 2022

How Djokovic sparked a debate about the fairness of border policy

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A constant stream of passers-by stopped in front of Melbourne’s Park Hotel on Saturday, stopping to take pictures, read the chalk scrawled on the building – “release them all” and “30 children locked up here and tortured for 3,092 days.” — or peering, trying to catch a glimpse of Novak Djokovic, the tennis star who was detained inside.

As I camped across the street, preparing to write an article about how Mr. Djokovic’s situation has brought attention to the plight of the refugees and asylum seekers held inside, I caught snippets of their conversations.

“Did you know they’ve been there for nine years?” one woman exclaimed to her companion.

“I never knew about this,” the man told one of a dozen refugee rights activists protesting outside the hotel.

That seems to be a common theme last week: surprise at home and abroad at Australia’s strict border control and detention system, which drew attention to Mr Djokovic’s visa and vaccination story.

With the announcement on Friday afternoon that Alex Hawke, the Australian Minister of Immigration, has once again revoked Mr. Djokovic’s visa, this is the first time many of us have been exposed to the inner workings of the system where you have 20 minutes to explain why your visa should not be revoked, with limited legal aid and the wide range of powers vested in the Minister of Immigration.

The way Mr Djokovic was treated in the border control system was not unusual, said Mary Ann Kenny, an associate professor of law at Murdoch University, but “unlike many other people who went through that system, he was able to get lawyer and challenge it.

The Secretary of Immigration’s broad discretion over visas was originally intended to be used in circumstances where the strict and narrow application of the law could lead to unfair results, she said. For example, it can be used to issue visas to asylum seekers who do not technically qualify as refugees but have extenuating circumstances such as statelessness.

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But over time, she said, successive immigration ministers of all political stripes have increased their powers and used them for political purposes, especially in the last 20 years after Australia’s tough border policy for asylum seekers arriving by sea.

“We may have one of the strictest border and detention regimes of any country on the planet,” said Abul Rizvi, former deputy secretary of the immigration department.

But at the same time, he added, we are a nation of immigrants, with more than 30 percent of Australians born in another country – a much higher percentage than in other countries such as the United States and Canada. “It’s a strange dichotomy,” he said.

Australia relies on backpackers and Pacific Island workers for much of our seasonal agricultural workforce and temporary visa holders to fill jobs in sectors such as hospitality, construction and healthcare. But the country is regularly criticized for its treatment of asylum seekers – previously housed on outlying islands like Manus and Nauru, now in detention hotels.

On Saturday, some bystanders outside the Park Hotel, such as Bobby Tomašević, 55, thought about justice – both for Mr. Djokovic and for the asylum seekers and refugees trapped inside.

“It gives you a sour feeling,” he said. “It shouldn’t be like this.”

And now our stories of the week.


World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
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