WELLINGTON – The treatment of tennis star Novak Djokovic by Australian immigration officials might seem harsh to people watching from afar.
But Australia has long taken a severe stance on immigration, including warehousing refugees in offshore detention camps and preventing overseas citizens from returning home during the pandemic. Many of its policies have been condemned by critics.
Djokovic, who is unvaccinated against the coronavirus, faces deportation from Australia after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Friday revoked his visa for the second time, citing health and “good order” considerations.
He isn't the first celebrity to face tough treatment.
British far-right commentator Katie Hopkins was deported from Australia last year after breaking quarantine rules. Back in 2007, American rapper Snoop Dogg was refused entry due to previous criminal convictions.
And in 2015, Australian authorities threatened to euthanize Pistol and Boo, the Yorkshire terriers owned by actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. The couple snuck the dogs into the country on their private jet. The terriers survived; Heard and Depp's romance did not.
Djokovic's saga began earlier this month when he arrived in Melbourne to play in the Australian Open, hoping to cement his place in history as the first man to win 21 Grand Slam tournaments.
But he ended up spending four nights confined to an immigration detention hotel after officials rejected his exemption to Australia’s strict vaccination rules and canceled his visa.
On Monday, he won a court fight on procedural grounds that allowed him to stay and practice. Djokovic is expected to appeal Friday's visa decision. but he is running out of time and options.
Australia gives unusual authority to its immigration minister, so much so that the job carries what many refer to as “god powers.” Hawke can essentially overrule the courts to deport people, and deportees only have narrow grounds to appeal the minister's decisions.
Kian Bone, a migration lawyer at law firm Macpherson Kelley in Melbourne, said Djokovic might not have time to mount an effective appeal before he's due to play, forcing him to forfeit.
“Australia has always had highly codified and highly legislated immigration policies,” Bone said. “And compared to other countries, we confer extraordinary power to the minister of immigration.”
Australia's colonization by white settlers began with the forced immigration of British convicts in the late 18th century. Britain would send tens of thousands of men and women to Australian penal colonies for 80 years before it stopped the practice in 1868.
When Australia formed its first federal government in 1901, one of its first orders of business was to pass the Immigration Restriction Act, which was designed to keep out people of color from Asia, the Pacific Islands and elsewhere.
The “White Australia” policy continued for decades before the last remnants were eliminated in the 1970s.
One victim of the policy was Filipino-American Lorenzo Gamboa, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941 and was evacuated to Australia when the Philippines fell to Japan. He married an Australian woman, and the couple had two children.
When Gamboa was discharged from the army, he planned to live in Australia, but authorities denied him permanent residence and he was forced to leave. The case provoked outrage in the Philippines and a major diplomatic riff. Gamboa eventually was allowed to settle in Australia in 1952.
Almost half a century later, Australia put in place the “Pacific Solution.” Under the 2001 policy, asylum-seekers who attempted to reach Australia by boat were sent to detention centers in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, rather than being allowed to stay on the Australian mainland.
Hundreds of asylum-seekers were housed on the islands until the numbers were reduced in recent years. Scores still remain.
Journalist Behrouz Boochani, who had fled from Iran, was held against his will on the islands for six years.
Using a smuggled phone and posting to social media, Boochani detailed unsanitary conditions, hunger strikes and violence in the detention camps, as well as deaths caused by medical neglect and suicide.
Boochani eventually used his phone to write a book, sending snippets in Farsi to a translator over WhatsApp. His book, called “No Friend But the Mountains,” won a prestigious Australian award, the Victorian Prize for Literature. But he’s never been able to travel to Australia to collect the prize.
In 2019, Boochani escaped to New Zealand, where he now lives.
New Zealand has close ties with its neighbor, but Australia's tough stance on immigration has caused tension, especially in recent years after Australia began enforcing stricter policies on deporting criminals to New Zealand.
New Zealand reluctantly agreed last year to accept the repatriation of alleged Islamic State militant Suhayra Aden and her two young children after they were detained in Turkey.
Aden had lived most of her life in Australia and was a dual citizen of both Australia and New Zealand. But Australia stripped her citizenship under its anti-terrorism laws, leaving New Zealand to shoulder the responsibility for her return.
Despite protests from New Zealand, Australia's government, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, stood by its decision on Aden. It has been equally resolute on Djokovic.
“The Morrison government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hawke said Friday in a statement.