In front of Djokovic’s “hotel”, Serbian supporters rub shoulders with refugee defenders
As the rain hits the crowds outside the Novak Djokovic detention center in Melbourne, cries of “free Novak” alternate with “free refugees” as fans stand alongside anti-vaccine activists and protesters.
The vaccine-skeptical tennis ace was placed in the center earlier this week, his visa revoked for failing to adhere to strict entry restrictions in the event of a pandemic in Australia.
In the crowd of around 50 who gathered for a second day of protest on Friday, some displayed larger-than-life posters of the nine-time Australian Open champion while others held anti -vaccine. A group called “Grandmothers for Refugees” has expressed support for migrants detained by the government.
Draped in flags and playing nationalist songs, some Serbs in the crowd celebrated Orthodox Christmas Day at the protest.
“Obviously there would be a lot more people here if people didn’t have family obligations today,” said Djokovic supporter Sash Aleksic.
“You know a lot of people don’t like him, and they have a right to dislike him. But what did he really do? They think he’s arrogant because what, because he wins? “
Aleksic shared the views of some anti-government protesters in the crowd who oppose Australia’s Covid-19 policies.
“Our human rights have gone out the window … and they (use) medical excuses.”
A man held up an anti-vaccine poster that read, “Unleash the legend of Novax.”
– ‘In search of freedom’ –
It’s unclear how long Djokovic – who has spoken out against the vaccines and claimed to have an exemption – will be held at the Melbourne facility.
A court is due to hear his legal challenge against the cancellation of his visa on Monday.
Officially known as an “alternative place of detention”, the facility is home to around 32 migrants who are trapped in Australia’s intransigent immigration system.
Prisoners cannot go out and no one is allowed in or out, except the staff.
The building, which was previously the Park Hotel, was graffitied with the slogan ‘free them all’ by refugee supporters on Thursday evening, when two people were arrested as police attempted to clear the area.
An inmate had stuck a sign saying “I am seeking my freedom” on one of the windows.
The establishment gained notoriety last year when a fire in the building forced refugees and asylum seekers to be evacuated, and maggots were reportedly found in the food.
Detainee Mehdi Ali told AFP on Thursday that Djokovic was his favorite tennis player and that he was saddened by the prospect of the star being held there.
“The media will talk more about us, probably the whole world, which is so sad, just because Djokovic would be there for a few days,” he said.
In the mishmash of messages outside the detention center, hovering between megaphones and flags, one person held up a somewhat odd poster with three red hearts that read, “Free hugs.”
bur-dva / axn