Sydney, Australia

The detention and deportation of tennis star Novak Djokovic from Australia this month has turned the spotlight on 75 asylum seekers, who have spent up to nine years in offshore and onshore detention.

Australia Melbourne Airport Novak Djokovic

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic walks in Melbourne Airport before boarding a flight, after the Federal Court upheld a government decision to cancel his visa to play in the Australian Open, in Melbourne, Australia, on 16th January. PICTURE: Reuters/Loren Elliott.

Elizabeth Stone, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Australia, told Sight the publicity surrounding the Djokovic case reminded and informed Australians about the plight of dozens of men in immigration detention in hotels in Darwin, Brisbane and Melbourne.

Around 200 people have been allowed into the community since 2020, and Stone said there was little information about why the remaining asylum seekers remained in detention in places like the Park Hotel in Melbourne, where Djokovic was taken before he was deported ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament.


Christian leaders in Australian have condemned what they have called a "mean and tricky" attempt to disguise inaction after the Australian Government announced on Friday it would provide at least 15,000 places for Afghan nationals through the nation's humanitarian and family visa reunion programs over the next four years.

Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke described the move as "significant".

"Today’s announcement of 15,000 places follows our initial allocation of 3,000 places to Afghanistan in August, 2021, which as we indicated then, was a floor and not a ceiling," he said in a statement. "This continues to be the case. The Government will continue to monitor processing numbers and reserves the right to increase the program in future years."

But in a statement the Christians United for Afghanistan campaign said the places aren't additional to Australia's "already small annual intake of 13,750 people" and that many of the approximately 5,000 Afghans who have already arrived in Australia will now need to apply for one of the 10,000 humanitarian visa spots.

 Rev Tim Costello, executive director of Micah Australia, said in the statement that Prime Minister Scott Morrison was "on the record saying there's no cap to the number of Afghan refugees Australia can take - but it appears there is and it's a paltry 15,000 over four years".

He added that "2,500 people a year isn’t compassionate, it’s bare minimum" and described the Morrison government’s humanitarian response as "a stain on our nation".

"This isn't a compassionate response, it's just more mean and tricky spin to disguise the Morrison's government's complete inaction."

Rev Sharon Hollis, president of Uniting Church in Australia, said Christian leaders have been consistent in their call for 20,000 Afghans to be granted humanitarian visas, in addition to Australia’s annual intake.

“We spent two decades in Afghanistan as part of the military campaign - it is our moral duty to bring as many people to safety as we can."

Tim Costello is a member of the Sight Advisory Board.


“There are a lot of people in the sector trying to find that out. The government has said these people in detention will never get permanent settlement in Australia,” she said.

Some still in detention had accepted and were waiting for resettlement in the United States, as were some who were living in the community on temporary visas.

Stone said the incident surrounding Djokovic was timely because a joint-parliamentary inquiry was currently considering a Bill proposed by Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie to end indefinite and arbitrary detention.

She said the proposed legislation would affect those currently in detention, including some who had been incarcerated for nine years.

“The Djokovic case has given people an idea that the detention is arbitrary - and sometimes it’s very unclear what the reasons are that people are in detention - and secondly, it’s indefinite".

She said the Australian system of immigration detention needed to be independently reviewed and changed because it didn’t “stand up to scrutiny” in terms of international law and human rights conventions.

Stone said the difference between the Djokovic case and the system generally was that asylum seekers still in detention were suffering harm. 

Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Lorraine Finlay, in an opinion piece on the ABC website, on Thursday said: “Hotels are simply not appropriate places to detain people for extended periods. The hotels used for immigration detention have been found to lack dedicated facilities for exercise and recreation, there is often limited access to fresh air or outdoor space, and there have been media reports of maggoty food. The human rights and health impacts of hotel detention are serious and well-documented, including by the Australian Human Rights Commission.”

Finlay said Australia made an international commitment to embed a coordinated and independent inspection system for all places of detention in 2017, but four years on from ratifying the protocol, it had failed to do so by the deadline of 20th January.

In a positive move, the Federal Government in December announced two new measures supporting community sponsorship of refugees in Australia from July.

This will allow up to 1,500 UNHCR-referred refugees over a four-year periodic access Centrelink support and Medicare benefits while being supported by community and church groups with practical needs like housing, furniture and material goods.

Current fees for the visa application will also be “significantly reduced”, according to the NCCA website, making it more affordable for Australians to sponsor the visa of a refugee who is already known to them.

However, the changes would not increase the size of Australia’s current humanitarian migration quota in the short term.

Clarification: A statement that Elizabeth Stone said the Australian system of granting refugee visas needed to be reviewed and changed has been amended to now read that the Australian system of immigration detention needed to be independently reviewed and changed.