As crowds outside a Melbourne detention center are treated to Novak Djokovic’s residence due to rain, slogans of “free Novak” are chanted along with “free refugees” as fans stand alongside activists and anti-vaccine protesters . The vaccine-skeptic’s tennis ace was held up after arriving in Australia this week – after his visa was revoked for failing to meet the country’s tough pandemic restrictions.
In a crowd of about 50 people who gathered on Friday, the second day of the protest, some displayed larger-than-life posters of the star, while others carried anti-vaccine placards and another group called “Grandmothers for Refugees” protested. Raised voice in support of the migrants taken in.
Wrapped in flags and playing nationalist songs, some Serbians celebrated Orthodox Christmas Day in protest.
“He’s our blood, we’re supporting our country. He’s not getting Christmas and is stuck in a detention center,” said Djokovic supporter Tara Aksintijevi.
Fellow fan Sash Alexic echoed 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 (are) using medical excuses.”
A man was holding an anti-vaccine poster that read: “Free the Novavax Legend”.
In retaliation against anti-vaccine protesters, a group called the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF) was showing support for asylum seekers.
“Because of his wealth and position, Novak was able to circumvent the important public health measure. The refugees are innocent and Djokovic is not,” said Jack Borzovoy, 27, of CARF.
Djokovic supporters attempted to confront the group, but police intervened, forming a line to separate them.
Alexic is the nine-time defending Australian Open champion.
“You know, a lot of people don’t like him, and it’s their right not to like him. But what exactly has he done? They assume he’s arrogant because what, because he wins?”
It is unclear how long Djokovic – who has declared himself against vaccines and claimed exemption – will be held.
A court is set to hear his legal challenge against the cancellation of his visa on Monday.
‘Waiting for Freedom’
Officially known as an “alternate place of detention”, the Melbourne facility is home to around 32 migrants who are stuck in Australia’s hardline immigration system.
They are believed to include the world’s top tennis player, although border officials have declined to confirm where Djokovic has been detained.
The detainees cannot go out and no one is allowed in or out except the employees.
The building, formerly the Park Hotel, was painted with the slogan “Free all” by refugee supporters on Thursday night, after police arrested two people trying to clear the area.
One of the captives had pasted a sign “I am seeking my freedom” on one of the windows.
In a mishmash of messages outside the detention center, hovering among megaphones and flags, a man held up a somewhat inconspicuous poster, embellished with three red hearts, that read: “Free Hugs”.
The center gained notoriety last year when a fire in the building forced the evacuation of refugees and asylum seekers, and insects were reportedly found in the food.
Detney Mehdi Ali told AFP on Thursday that Djokovic is his favorite tennis player, and he is saddened that the star is likely to be held there.
“The media will talk more about us, the whole world probably, which is very sad, just because Djokovic will be here for a few days,” he said.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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