Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

The furore on whether or not Novak Djokovic will be allowed to take part in the Australian Open, the Serbian tennis star and vaccine skeptic has set out against the Australian government. But Djokovic is no victim and the government is no hero.

The focus – and noise – around the battle of Djokovic to the Australian Government is a distraction from the plight of thousands of asylum seekers who have been denied entry to Australia and who are being chased to island prison camps run by private security firms. As far as Australia and migration are concerned, we need to focus on their fate, not that of rich and privileged sports stars.

For the past decade, Australia has enthusiastically a zero tolerance approach towards asylum seekers trying to reach its coast. In short, Australia catches undocumented people reaching the country as well as those trying to enter by boat. It then transports them to privately run processing centers in third countries, notably Nauru and Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, with which Australia has agreements.

Once in custody, asylum seekers have three options: return to their original state (regardless of the damage they face if they do); find a third country that they will accept; or stay in the camps hoping to have their claim processed by Australia. If detained asylum seekers choose to stay, they could be detained indefinitely at these centers. As the government acknowledges: “There is no restriction in the law or policy on the length of time a person may be detained.”

None of this saves Australia a dime. Expenditure on its foreign detention facilities amounts to billions of dollars annually and the average cost of detaining an asylum seeker in one of the island’s facilities costs Australia about twice that of a detainee on land.

The conditions in the camps can be fatal. Consider the story of Reza Barati, who made it to Australia in 2013. The 23-year-old Iranian Kurd’s arrival on Australian soil came just days after accepting the regional resettlement arrangement between Australia and Papua New Guinea, which allows Australian authorities to transfer asylum seekers like him from Australia to Manus Island. Just six months after his transfer, he was killed by guards during a riot.

Reza Barati was “nothing more than an ordinary youth with the kind of dreams that every single young man from every culture has for his future”. But he died at the hands of private guards hired by Australia to control the detainees. Witnesses claimed that at least 13 guards kicked Barati in the head. One dropped a large stone on Barati’s head as he lay on the floor. Two private security guards from Papua New Guinea were eventually convicted of Barati’s murder; guards from Australia and other countries have never been prosecuted for their involvement.

Not all abuses in foreign detention centers are as blatant as Barati’s death, but they are no less devastating. In 2017, Nai Jit Lam, UNHCR’s Deputy Regional Representative in Canberra, traveled to Manus Island, calling what he saw there “a man-made and completely preventable humanitarian crisis” and “a damning charge of a policy intended to is to avoid Australia’s international obligations “. ”. According to a former migrant detention manager: “In Australia, this facility could not even serve as a dog kennel. The owners would be sent to prison. “

On Manus and Nauru, detained children draw self-portraits of themselves in cages while tears stream down their faces. Some refugees stay for years, in a camp that looks more like an open-air Guantanamo Bay as a migrant processing center. Human rights groups described an “epidemic of self-harm” on the island, as well as an institutional failure to prevent violent attacks on asylum seekers by the local population.

Children on the island are suffering from high levels of mental health issues while the Australian government is fighting in court to refuse their medical care. Because this damage occurs in privately operated facilities, liability efforts are made more difficult; justice for migrants and human rights violations are further removed, just as the Government of Australia wants it.

Many international lawyers believe the conditions in Australia’s foreign detention centers amount to an international crime. In 2017, a statement was lodged with the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor alleging that the damage Australia and its corporate contractors had done to foreign asylum seekers in foreign detention facilities – including imprisonment, torture, deportation and prosecution – were crimes against humanity. established.

In 2020, the ICC prosecutor replied that although the offenses did not meet the court’s threshold of seriousness and the court could not proceed with an investigation, Australia’s regime of foreign detention centers was “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” and other possible crimes against humanity. .

Thanks to the work of lawyers, Australia was also ordered in 2017 to pay compensation to asylum seekers detained in its foreign detention centers. The decision came in response to a class action lawsuit on behalf of 1,905 asylum seekers on Manus Island alleging negligence and illegal detention on the part of Australia. Further class actions are being continued by Australian courts.

Djokovic may have gone through legal COVID-19 controls against Australia’s border crossing rules, but what he went through is not even a fraction of what asylum seekers have suffered trying to make it to Australia. In a twist of irony, Djokovic held in a Melbourne hotel where some asylum seekers spent years, in what his mother called prison-like conditions. Djokovic can leave; these migrants can not.

Around the world, people on the move terrible conditions as a direct result of the policies of states that see it as a plague to be controlled by private security companies and a nuisance to push away in foreign camps with deplorable conditions. Australia’s detention centers for migrants are personifications of this violent, discriminatory and illegal approach.

More asylum seekers are likely to suffer and die as a result of these draconian policies than any inherent danger of self-migration. It is these people who are the real victims of the Australian Government. They deserve our attention and compassion, not the Djokovics of the world.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial views.

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