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Djokovic’s deportation: We must talk about Australia’s failing refugee policies

For nearly a decade, Australia has held vulnerable asylum seekers in offshore detention centres. Where is their media coverage?

Shaminda Kanapathi
17 January 2022, 5.38pm
Novak Djokovic’s detention and deportation from Australia has dominated the news
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PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

The Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic’s detention and deportation from Australia has dominated headlines and social media around the world for the past week.

But the system he was trying to beat has been failing refugees and asylum seekers for almost a decade, with next to no media coverage at all.

Australia, a country that is a signatory to the UN refugee convention and is vastly in need of migrants to build its community and economy, continuously spits hate at refugees and asylum seekers. Its government maintains two tough policies to prevent people from entering Australia: one is to turn back boats when safe to do so and the second is to punish innocent people in offshore camps.

The government has been transferring asylum seekers offshore to Papua New Guinea and Nauru since 2012, though it announced late last year that it would end its offshore processing in the former. At the time, Australia said those still being held in Papua New Guinea would either be offered residency there or transferred to Nauru. Yet there have been no potential settlement options found to settle those still in Papua New Guinea’s capital, Port Moresby.

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Some of these people are seeking asylum from atrocities that no human being should have to endure. Yet in these islands, their welfare is at the mercy of corrupt systems. Horrific incidents have occurred in offshore detention over the years, including riots, rights violations, shootings, refugee deaths caused by deliberate medical negligence, self-harm, suicide and hunger strikes.

The Australian government developed its tough immigration policies were adopted to deter people who were waiting to travel to Australia by boat from Indonesia. There are currently around 14,000 refugees who have made their way to Indonesia and are waiting there for Australia or another country to take them. The Australian government has always said its actions are motivated by ‘concern’ – that it is working hard to stop people drowning at sea.

The real reason, however, is that they do not want the migrants to enter Australia and start their lives. Australia has a long history of white supremacy and anti-immigrant policy. Its leaders have consistently propagandised against refugees, spending billions of dollars to keep their political scorecard winning.

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A new documentary by a former detainee explores how Australia has been treating people seeking asylum in its Nauru offshore detention facility

But over the past few weeks, news of a tennis player’s detention has become a wildfire in Australia. Significant priority within the immigration system was given to a single person while thousands of vulnerable people, including children, are suffocating under Australian control. Is this because a federal election is expected early this year? Since 2001, when then prime minister John Howard feared losing the election to Labor, the refugee crisis has been dragged out ahead of each election, stoking fears that deaths at sea will again rise and an invasion of refugees will infiltrate the country. This tactic has won many elections.

Thousands of men, women and children have been sent to Papua New Guinea and Nauru against their will, despite Australia having an international responsibility to help asylum seekers. In 2016, even Papua New Guinea eventually ruled it illegal to send people who sought asylum in Australia to offshore detention, leading to the largest compensation payout ever in Australian history for asylum seekers. This was a huge scandal for Australia. However, there was little media coverage criticising its actions. Voices were silenced, even though there is a movement supporting refugees and asylum seekers and demanding that Australia honours its human rights responsibilities towards them.

The majority of the public has been blindfolded by the Australian government’s misinformation about refugees. People have been convinced that those who come to Australia are terrorists and extremists. It is a planned myth that has made the Australian people fear migrants and hate refugees.

Why does a tennis player’s detention matter more than the fate of the thousands of people seeking asylum?

As a refugee who was illegally detained in both Papua New Guinea and Nauru from 2013 until 2021, I see this as clear negligence of humanity by Australia. The heinous acts that regularly take place in offshore detention receive no attention at any level from either the Australian government or media.

If the real truth were known and the people of Australia correctly informed, these brutalities would not have taken place. During nearly ten years of illegal detention, 13 deaths have occurred in the name of the Australian government. Why, then, has there been nothing but Djokovic (and COVID) in the news this past week?

There are still people seeking asylum who have been left behind in limbo in Nauru and Papua New Guinea with no hope of a future. They are extremely vulnerable. Australia has simply washed its hands. These people’s welfare has been handed over to the Papua New Guinea government, a corrupt system for which refugees will pay the price.

The Australian government continues to marginalise people seeking asylum. It continues to spend billions of dollars of Australian taxpayers’ money to do so and, in the process, shows contempt for human beings and human rights. The Australian media never has been so negligent about the refugee crisis. Why does a foreign tennis player’s detention matter more than the fate of the thousands of people seeking asylum?

Although this fiasco is representative of Australia’s policy on refugees, it makes no sense in a human rights capacity. It makes me incensed to see that a country of migrants hates migrants.

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