(Update: adds Djokovic’s father’s remarks)
Sydney, Australia, Jan 7 (EFE).- World number one tennis player Novak Djokovic is free to leave Australia at any time, the country’s home affairs minister said Friday.
Djokovic’s visa was canceled after he arrived in Melbourne on Wednesday night with a medical exemption that would have allowed him to defend his title at the Australian Open without being vaccinated. But the Australian Border Force said he did not meet entry requirements.
He was being held in an immigration detention center while awaiting a court hearing on Monday morning to address an appeal against his deportation.
“Mr Djokovic is not being held captive in Australia, he is free to leave at any time that he chooses to do so and Border Force will actually facilitate that,” Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said, according to national broadcaster ABC.
The Serbian foreign ministry lodged a formal protest on Thursday to the Australian ambassador to Serbia, Daniel Emery, over the “inappropriate and inhumane treatment” to which it says Djokovic is being subjected.
According to a government statement, Serbia expects Emery to make a personal effort for Djokovic to obtain adequate accommodation for the athlete while he awaits the court’s decision.
Andrews also defended Friday the immigration authorities’ decision to cancel the tennis star’s visa.
“It is the individual traveler’s responsibility to make sure they have in place all the necessary documentation that is needed to enter Australia,” she said.
The ABC reported Djokovic tried to enter on the basis his vaccination exemption was issued as he had recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months.
Vaccination is mandatory to enter Australia, but there are a handful of reasons that an exemption can be granted, including an acute medical condition such as undergoing a major surgery, a serious adverse event attributed to a previous dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, or evidence of infection confirmed by a PCR test in the previous six months.
The dispute over the medical exemptions granted by Tennis Australia and the regional government of Victoria have prompted the federal government to investigate similar exemptions granted to at least two other people participating in the tournament in Melbourne, which will be held between Jan 17-30.
Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Belgrade in a protest called by tennis player Novak Djokovic’s family in which his father, Srdjan, compared his son’s immigration problems to those of Jesus Christ, accusing the government of wanting to humiliate his son.
“Jesus also had problems, they did everything to him, but he is still alive among us. So is Nole (Novak’s nickname). No one can do anything to him! He is the heart of Serbia, of the free world!” his father told supporters.
Srdjan said his son was not being held in a hotel but in a “prison” and that while the same permission was granted to other players, the government wanted to deliberately “humiliate him and bring him to his knees.”
Earlier in the day in Melbourne, more than 100 supporters of Djokovic, including members of the Serbian and anti-vaccine community, protested Friday in front of the Melbourne city hotel where he is being held awaiting whether he can enter Australia.
The protesters, some dressed as tennis players, mixed today with activists who regularly gather around the Park Hotel to demand rights for the more than 30 asylum seekers who have been detained there for months.
Amid Orthodox Christmas celebrations, Milorad Locard, Serbian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity dean in Melbourne, said he asked authorities to allow a priest to visit Djokovic, who regularly celebrates the holiday in the city, according to Australian public broadcaster ABC.
“Everything that surrounds this event is atrocious and we are very disappointed with the way (Australian) Prime Minister (Scott) Morrison has handled it. That he has to spend Christmas in a detention center, it is unthinkable,” said the ecclesiastical authority of Melbourne.EFE