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Welcome to Australia’s Hotel California

Spotlight turns on Park Hotel, Djokovic’s sub-par asylum hotel

By Ricky Browne

Tennis star and World Number One Novak Djokovic is currently inside what is called a hotel in Melbourne, Australia, waiting out if he will be able to stay to defend his title in the Australia Open.

But the hotel in question is more of a prison or perhaps the Hotel California, than a resort, at least according to one ‘guest’ who says he has been locked in a cage there for nine years.

“It’s so sad that so many journalists contacted me yesterday to ask me about Djokovic. I’ve been in a cage for 9 years, I turn 24 today, and all you want to talk to me about is that. Pretending to care by asking me how I am and then straight away asking questions about Djokovic,” said Mehdi Ali in a tweet, observing yet another birthday from inside the hotel.

Welcome to the Hotel California aka Park Hotel

Ali is from Iran, and came to Australia as a 15 year old, to escape persecution in his home country, where he belongs to a minority group. The saying he runs on his Twitter site reads: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

He has been detained on Christmas Island, then Nauru, and since October last year at the same hotel that Djokovic now finds himself.

Ali’s tweet got 26,000 likes and was retweeted some 6500 times.

“I’ve served more time than rapists, but I’ve never committed a crime in my whole life. My only “crime” was asking this country for safety. A murderer might probably be out on probation by now…” Ali tweeted.

Ali carries a sign saying: “I came to Australia asking for safety when I was just 15 years old. Now I am 23 years old and still in detention. I am suffering”

The hotel is called the Park Hotel, and it is infamous in much of Australia for being a detention centre for asylum seekers, said to serve dishes that feature live maggots and mould in place of seasoning. The facility is said to currently hold about 30 asylum seekers there.

“I don’t need good food, or food free from maggots. What I need is a chance to enjoy my youth as a free man, that was wasted in detention,” Ali tweeted.

But when people started to say that Djokovic was imprisoned and being treated like an animal, a government spokesman came out and said he was free to leave whenever he liked.

Djokovic is not willing to take a shot at winning the Australian Open again in Melbourne — at least not a vaccine shot

“Mr Djokovic is not being held captive in Australia,” said the Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews today “He is free to leave at any time that he chooses to do so and Border Force will actually facilitate that.”

Though that would presumably mean leaving the country, and giving up his court case to have his exemption recognised.

Djokovic’s problem is that he has apparently not been vaccinated for Covid. He has previously come out and said that he would not take the vaccine. But it is believed that he has had the disease within the past six months, which could exempt him from having to take the vaccine before gaining entry to Australia.

There’s plenty to do at the Hotel California

He actually did get an exemption, which has been recognized by the Victoria state government. But the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there was no way that Djokovic could enter Australia without a vaccine – a popular statement with many Australians – which has brought about this impasse.

In fact, there was much outrage in Australia that at a time when so many other people can not freely enter Australia, that Djokovic should get an exemption – appearing to being given special consideration while others suffer.

Djokovic released a message today to thank others for all the messages of support he had got. “Thank you to people around the world for your continuous support. I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated.”

Perhaps he missed some of the messages that were critical of him and his apparent decision to not take a vaccine.

“I’m an Australian living in the UK. I couldn’t attend my father or my sister’s funeral in Australia. In fact my mother couldn’t even cross state lines to go to her daughter’s funeral. What makes you so special? Cheers mate. Good luck with that crowd,” tweeted MrAB to Djokovic, receiving 8,200 likes.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison faces the polls in May

It would have been politically difficult for Morrison to not react the way he did, especially with general elections coming up in May.

But why, therefore, was Djokovic given the exemption in the first place? And did he have to be housed in a sub-standard Hotel California?

Djokovic’s mother says Australia is keeping him like a prisoner

Among those people who came out about the state of Djokovic’s accommodation was the stars mother, who said “I feel terrible since yesterday, the last 24 hours. They are keeping him like a prisoner. It’s just not fair. It’s not human,” she said.

“It’s just some small immigration hotel, if we can call it a hotel at all. Some bugs, it’s dirty, and the food is so terrible,” Dijana Djokovic added.

Djokovic’s father was even more damning in his comments:

“Shame on them, the entire freedom-loving world should rise together with Serbia,” Srdjan Djokvic said, as reported by Yahoo!Sport.

Djokovic compared his son to Jesus on the cross

“They crucified Jesus and now they are trying to crucify Novak the same way and force him on his knees.”

“They’re keeping him in captivity. They are trampling on Novak and thus they are trampling on Serbia and the Serbian people,” he told reporters at a news conference in Belgrade on Thursday.

“(Australian Prime Minister, Scott) Morrison and his like have dared attack Novak to bring Serbia to its knees. Novak has always shown that he comes from a proud nation,” he said.

“This has nothing to do with sports, this is a political agenda. Novak is the best player and the best athlete in the world, but several hundred million people from the West can’t stomach that,” he added.

The decision to house Djokovic in that facility puts a spotlight on how Australia treats its asylum seekers – which already appeared to be less than ideal.

Djokovic is a hero in Serbia

“If they are willing to treat Novak Djokovic in such a way, when they know the world is watching, imagine what they are willing to do when they know the world isn’t,” tweeted Gareth Icke, in a tweet that got 8,900 likes.

The idea might have been to make Djokovic so uncomfortable, that he would leave Australia without taking the issue to court. But Djokovic survived Nato bombings during the breakup of Yugoslavia as a child, and seems to have the wherewithal to survive the discomfort of this prison-like setting.

Another issue is that taking a vaccine clearly does not protect someone from acquiring the virus, nor does it prevent someone from spreading it. Keir Starmer, the UK Opposition Leader, is fully vaccinated and caught the virus late last year. Later he took the booster shot. And yet this week he has contracted the disease yet again.

Presumably, the vaccines have prevented him from going to hospital or dying – so far at least.

So, if Djokovic has already had the virus, what extra risk is he brining into Australia, when compared with other vaccinated tennis players? It could be said that he may be increasing his own risk of catching the disease (debateable if we look at Starmer) and of possibly dying from it. But he is one of the fittest people on Earth, and takes great care with his diet and exercise regime, to ensure that his body is in peak condition.

If the only real extra danger for Djokovic not taking the vaccine is Djokovic himself, why is it so important for him to be vaccinated – particularly when he has probably already had the disease.

France has already said that Djokovic can come to defend his title at this years French Open

France has already said that vaccinated or not, Djokovic will be welcomed to participate in the French Open later this year.

Meanwhile, however this turns out for Djokovic and Australia Open fans, there is a chance that media attention will now fall on Australian asylum seekers like Mehdi Ali, so that perhaps he will be able to celebrate his 25th birthday as a free man.

“I’ve never seen so many cameras, so much attention. I hope Novak Djokovic learns about our situation here, and I hope he speaks about it,” Ali told The Guardian.

A protest outside the Park Hotel in Melbourne

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