WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – The treatment of tennis star Novak Djokovic by Australian immigration officials may seem harsh to anyone watching from afar.
But Australia has long taken a serious stance on immigration, including warehousing refugees in offshore detention camps and preventing foreign nationals from returning home during the pandemic. Many of its policies have been criticized by critics.
Djokovic, who is unaffiliated against the coronavirus, faces deportation from Australia after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke canceled his visa for the second time on Friday, citing health and “good order” considerations.
He is not the first celebrity to face tough treatment.
British far-right commentator Katie Hopkins was deported from Australia last year after breaking quarantine rules. Back in 2007, American rapper Snoop Dogg was refused entry due to a previous criminal conviction.
And in 2015, Australian authorities threatened to euthanize Pistol and Boo, a Yorkshire Terrier owned by actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. The couple drove the dogs into the country on their private jet. Terriers survived; Heard and Depp’s romance did not work out.
Djokovic’s saga began earlier this month when he arrived in Melbourne to play at the Australian Open, hoping to cement his place in history as the first man to win 21 Grand Slam tournaments.
But when authorities overruled his exemption from Australia’s strict vaccination rules and revoked his visa, he spent four nights at an immigration detention hotel.
On Monday, he won a court battle on procedural grounds that allowed him to stay and practice. Djokovic is expected to appeal against Friday’s visa decision. But he is running out of time and options.
Australia gives its immigration minister unusual powers, so much so that the job carries what many refer to as “the divine powers”. Hawke can essentially dismiss the courts for deporting people, and the deportees have only narrow grounds to appeal the minister’s decisions.
Kian Bone, immigration lawyer at the law firm MacPherson Kelly in Melbourne, said Djokovic may not have time to make an effective appeal before playing, which could force him to leave.
“Australia has always had highly codified and highly legislative immigration policies,” Bone said. “And compared to other countries, we give the Minister of Immigration extraordinary power.”
Colonization by white people in Australia began in the late 18th century with the forced immigration of British convicts. Britain would send thousands of men and women to the Australian penal colonies for 80 years before the practice was discontinued in 1868.
When Australia formed its first federal government in 1901, one of its first orders of business was to pass the Immigration Restriction Act, designed to keep people of color out of Asia, the Pacific Islands, and elsewhere Was.
The “White Australia” policy continued for decades before the last remnants were abolished in the 1970s.
One victim of the policy was Filipino-American Lorenzo Gamboa, who enlisted in the US Army in 1941 and was deported to Australia when the Philippines fell to Japan. He married an Australian woman, and the couple had two children.
When Gambo was discharged from the military, he planned to stay in Australia, but the authorities denied him permanent residency and was forced to leave. The case provoked outrage and a major diplomatic rift in the Philippines. Gambo was finally allowed to settle in Australia in 1952.
Almost half a century later, Australia held the “Pacific Solution”. Under the 2001 policy, asylum seekers who attempted to reach Australia by boat were sent to detention centers in Papua New Guinea or Nauru instead of being allowed to remain on the Australian mainland.
Hundreds of asylum seekers were held on the islands until numbers dwindled in recent years. The score is still pending.
Journalist Behrouz Bouchani, who had fled Iran, was held on the islands for six years against his will.
Using smuggled phones and posting on social media, Bouchani detailed the unhygienic conditions in detention camps, hunger strikes and violence, as well as deaths due to medical neglect and suicide.
Bouchani eventually used his phone to write a book, sending snippets in Farsi to a translator on WhatsApp. His book, “No Friend But the Mountains”, won a prestigious Australian award, the Victorian Prize for Literature. But he was never able to travel to Australia to collect the prize.
In 2019, Bouchani fled to New Zealand, where he now lives.
New Zealand has close ties with its neighbours, but Australia’s tough stance on immigration has led to tensions, especially in recent years when Australia began implementing stricter policies on deporting criminals to New Zealand.
New Zealand last year reluctantly agreed to accept repatriation after alleged Islamic State terrorist Suhaira Aden and her two young children were detained in Turkey.
Aden had spent most of her life in Australia and was a dual citizen of both Australia and New Zealand. But Australia stripped him of his citizenship under its anti-terrorism laws, forcing New Zealand to take responsibility for his return.
Despite protests from New Zealand, the government of Australia, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, stood by its decision on Aden. It has been equally firm on Djokovic.
“The Morrison Government is strongly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hawke said in a statement on Friday.