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Tennis star's deportation exposes Australian border debate

MELBOURNE (AP) -- Tired after two years of COVID-19's most severe border restrictions, many Australians demanded Novak Djokovic be expelled from their country. Novak was traveling to a tournament in tennis without having been vaccinated.

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Tennis star's deportation exposes Australian border debate


The backdrop of the government's harsh line against the Australian Open champion and Prime Minister Scott Morrison's description that the expulsion was a "decision for our borders to be strong" dates back almost a decade. It also sheds light on Australia's complex, highly criticized, immigration- and border policies.


In 2013, the border problem wasn't Djokovic and unvaccinated foreigners, but thousands of asylum seekers from Asia and the Middle East who came to Australia in rickety fishing boats originating from Indonesian ports.


With the May 2015 election approaching, Djokovic is now the focus of the government's claims to have a hard line on border protection. Leaders hope this will help them win more votes. Djokovic, however, has been criticized by the opposition for exposing government failures in border protection and its pandemic response.


Refugee activists claim that the treatment of the tennis star exposes the harsh treatment of many others held because of visa issues.

A Jan. 4 social media post by Djokovic claiming that he was granted "exemption permission" to travel quarantine-free to Australia for tennis caused widespread anger. An automated visa application process had approved him days before.


Djokovic arrived in Australia at a time when many Australians' relatives overseas are still unable to visit them because their COVID-19 vaccination types aren’t recognised by Australian authorities.


Holly McCann, a tennis fan, was there to witness the Australian Open's first day. She said Djokovic didn't deserve an exception from strict border rules.


McCann stated, "It should always be the rule is rule, regardless your status." "I don't have anything against him personally, but he shouldn't be an exception."


Viewer responses to an expletive-laden conversation between Seven Network television broadcasters Mike Amor and Rebecca Maddern, which was posted on the internet, were overwhelming positive. This suggests that viewers want Djokovic removed.


According to Sunday Age newspaper Sunday Age, 71% of respondents said that Djokovic should not be allowed to remain in Australia.


Morrison was the new minister for Immigration and Border Protection in 2013, after a conservative coalition won their first three consecutive elections. He played a crucial role in resolving what seemed like an insurmountable and politically dangerous problem of illegal boat arrivals.


Morrison was credited for turning back boats by government vessels and sending asylum seekers to the immigration centers on poor islands nations, instead of the Australian mainland.


Djokovic spent most of his time in Australia in the Park Hotel, where he was held for immigration detention while he fought the courts to remain in Melbourne. Refugee advocates welcomed this because it brought international attention to 60 others who were being held in the same high rise building as Djokovic, despite not having visas.


Morrison tweeted that Djokovic's visa had been cancelled for the first time, and that rules are rules, especially when it is about our borders.


Ian Rintoul, a Melbourne refugee advocate, noted that Djokovic was not tied to a chair when he was taken from the Park Hotel.


Rintoul stated that many people were shocked to learn that refugees are being held captive by the Australian government because Novak Djokovic was the reason. "That's the silver lining of this fiasco."


After a court overturned an earlier decision by a border officer to cancel Djokovic's visa for procedural reasons, Alex Hawke made the political decision to deport Djokovic. He arrived at Melbourne Airport 11 days prior.


In a confusing twist, Australia cancelled Djokovic’s visa twice because of different reasons.


The visa was cancelled in the first instance because the patient's diagnosis of COVID-19 in Serbian last month didn't qualify him to be exempted from Australia border rules. To prove that they are not vaccinated for health reasons, foreign visitors must be either fully vaccinated and/or provide a medical certificate.


Djokovic relied on exemptions to vaccine rules provided by Tennis Australia, the Victoria state government.


Hawke considered the 34-year-old Serb a "talisman" of anti-vaccination sentiment and wanted to deport him. This might have encouraged Australians to follow his example of disregarding pandemic safety precautions.


Morrison's rise has seen border protection a constant theme. Although popular at home the border policies were widely condemned as inhumane, they were also criticized for abrogating Australia's international obligations to refugees.


Djokovic was the one in detention in a hotel. They arrived in Australia from Papua New Guinea and Nauru camps for medical treatment. After obtaining a court injunction, they were prevented from being returned. Rintoul, the refugee advocate said that some have been held in hotels for more then two years.


Thousands of Australians were denied permission to travel abroad for nearly two years after the outbreak of the pandemic. They could not visit their dying relatives, attend funerals, or meet new family members.


Many consider the travel ban cruel. It kept Australia's pandemic deaths down and was supported majority of Australians.


However, Australia recorded twice as many coronavirus cases in 2022 than it did in the two previous years of the pandemic. This was due to travel restrictions being relaxed a month earlier because of high vaccination rates and the arrival the highly contagious Omicron variant.


Morrison has placed the blame for Djokovic’s disastrous Australian trip squarely at the feet of the tennis star.


Kristina Keneally, spokesperson for the opposition, said that there was no reason for the government to issue a visa for "a known anti vax proponent."


"This was a huge misstep at our borders by Morrison government. They are happy to brag about it. She said they deserved a pat on the back.

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