Maggots, fires, COVID-19 outbreaks: Hotel holding Novak Djokovic in Australia criticized for squalid conditions
The hotel where Novak Djokovic reportedly is being held in Australia has come under criticism for allegedly keeping refugees and asylum seekers in squalid conditions.
Djokovic had traveled to Melbourne for the Australian Open, but was denied entry Wednesday by the Australian Border Force (ABF) because he did not meet the country's requirements under its COVID-19 entry policies.
Reuters reported the Serbian tennis star plans to appeal the decision and cited TV pictures that showed Djokovic entering the Park Hotel Melbourne.
The hotel's website boasts that it "is a luxurious 4.5-star hotel set in a prime location in the centre of Carlton," which is a neighborhood in Melbourne. Formerly known as Rydges on Swanston, the hotel says there are 107 "fully equipped, air-conditioned bedrooms" and goes on to list many of the typical amenities one would find at any hotel: blackout drapes, extra linens, coffee and tea maker, free cable, minibar.
Yet, multiple reports indicate that the conditions inside the facility have deteriorated as refugees and asylum seekers have been held there by the ABF.
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In an article published in October, The Guardian reported that 20 of 46 refugees and asylum seekers at the hotel had tested positive for the delta strain of COVID-19. The ABF had issued regular updates on the transmission inside the facility and the latest one, from October 29, confirmed 21 positive cases.
The ABF said it has offered vaccines to consenting detainees since early August 2021 and continues to do so.
According to The Guardian, detainees inside the hotel share a common kitchen area and use the same elevator, one at a time and escorted by guards. Those who test positive are moved to the first floor, though the transfer sometimes happens hours after results have come in and days after the tests were administered, according to The Guardian.
The windows were sealed shut once it started housing refugees and asylum seekers, resulting in air conditioners merely circulating the air. According to Reuters, the hotel has kept government detainees since December 2020 and currently holds more than two dozen.
According to The Guardian, detainees can request guard escorts to the fourth floor of the hotel, to a small outdoor space where they can smoke or get fresh air, one at a time.
"We are trapped here," detainee Salah Mustafa told The Guardian in October. "We are stuck in our rooms, waiting (for) this virus to come."
Another report, from SBS World News in Australia, indicated that detainees were given meals with mold and maggots. Published Dec. 29, the report also indicated that multiple fires broke out on the third and fourth floors of the hotel the week previous to publication, with one detainee allegedly ending up in the hospital because of smoke inhalation.
According to SBS, the fire affected the gym and laundry of the hotel, leaving detainees to wash clothes by hand.
A spokesperson of the ABF said the organization and the Department of Home Affairs are "committed to the health and welfare of detainees within the Australian immigration detention network."
Djokovic's mother, Dijana, ripped Australian border authorities over their treatment of Djokovic, saying the country was "keeping him as a prisoner." Djokovic, however, is free to leave Australia at any time and is merely being detained and denied entry because he is choosing to legally contest the ABF's decision to cancel his visa.
"As a mother, what can I say?" Dijana Djokovic said. "If you are a mother you can imagine how can I feel. I feel terrible, since yesterday, last 24 hours that they are keeping him as a prisoner. It's just not fair. It's not human."
With the reports that Djokovic was being held at the Park Hotel, protesters took to the streets in front of the building late Wednesday night and into Thursday morning to demonstrate. Images and information shared on the Twitter account of The Guardian Australia's Cait Kelly show protesters clashing with police and climbing onto a hotel awning. Kelly reported that Djokovic supporters and members of the Serbian community also demonstrated in front of the hotel, waving flags, lighting candles, dancing and singing songs.
The world No. 1 player, Djokovic was denied entry into Australia Wednesday over failing to provide appropriate documentation for an exemption from the country's COVID-19 vaccine mandate, the ABF announced Wednesday.
"Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled will be detained and removed from Australia," the ABF said in a statement.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said in a statement that he told Djokovic "the whole of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world's best tennis player is brought to an end immediately."
Melbourne, where the Australian Open is held, has been under severe anti-COVID measures during the pandemic with 260-plus days of lockdowns and restrictions on movement within the country that require special permission. The state of Victoria is now over 90% fully vaccinated, and the understanding from other players was that vaccination would be required to enter the Australian Open.
According to the ATP, 95 of the top 100 players in the rankings were vaccinated. One of those who isn’t, American Tennys Sandgren, did not make the trip despite being a two-time Australian Open quarterfinalist.
Djokovic is the reigning three-time Australian Open champion and has won the event nine times.
Contributing: Dan Wolken, Associated Press.