The situation this week around Novak Djokovic being detained in a Melbourne hotel has shined a light on the way our government treats refugees in this country and reflects the double standards between men in power and the disadvantaged in our society.

Earlier today, the tennis champion won his case against the federal government, which wanted to cancel his visa and deport him after he entered the country despite not being vaccinated against COVID-19.

Prior to Monday’s decision, he was being held at Park Hotel, a makeshift detention centre in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton where refugees and asylum seekers have been detained since December 2020.

While Djokovic was granted permission to leave the hotel by judge Anthony Kelly, dozens of asylum seekers and refugees are still there. Some of them have seen nothing but the hotel’s four walls for up to nine years and likely won’t be given the same freedom as him for many more years if at all.

38-year-old Jamal Mohamed is one of the many who fled their home country for safety detained at the Park Hotel. Speaking with The Guardian, he described the inhumane conditions they experience on the daily.

“There is no fresh air, there was recently a fire, the food is not great, we do not have access to a gym [and] the hotel is totally locked up,” he told the outlet.

“I am suffering each and every day. I have nightmares every night, all I want is freedom.

“It’s really terrible, I don’t know one person here who feels good about it.”

Another refugee named Mehdi, who has spent nine years detained in Park Hotel, explained that there’s a feeling of disappointment among those detained.

“Everyone wants to ask me about Novak, what the hotel is like for him,” he told The Guardian.

“But they don’t ask about us: we have been locked up in this place for months, for years.”

“We are sorry that he has been detained but we ask you, why does it take prisoners of the celebrity to bring attention to our plight,” Mohammed added in a video message shared by human rights activist Craig Foster on Sunday.

“He is just a human being like us.”

Mohamed also asked in his statement if Djokovic would speak out on the treatment of refugees in Park Hotel having experienced a snapshot of their heartbreaking few years.

The tennis champion is yet to do this. Given his privilege and the international attention on him, he has a duty to use his immediate platform to speak out. Even then, it’s devastating that it takes a white celebrity to go through just a taste of what refugees experience in this country for people to give a damn,

Supporters of refugees and asylum seekers in these facilities have called out the double standard in the way the media and world have responded to this. There’s a media circus around Djokovic because he’s a celebrity but nothing around the 33 people who had a legal right to seek asylum and refuge here but were forced by our nation’s violently harmful immigration system to spend their years in a hotel.

“Do not stop talking about the refugees in detention,” said Melbourne-based freelance journalist Najma Sambul.

“Enough is enough. We are all complicit in this human rights violation — Park Hotel is a prison, no person should be there.”

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has encouraged protesters to contact Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews’ office and urge her to release some of the refugees held in detention. “You can ask her to do just this,” they write.

“That Australian courts have the power to free Djokovic from detention in 30 minutes but have been stripped of the power to free refugees detained for nine years tells every Australian who cares to know that we have a bankrupted immigration system that must be completely overhauled.”

If we can fast-track the legal process involved in determining whether a questionable celebrity can enter the country, why can’t we do the same for the men, women, and children who literally flee their home country from violence or their own safety be treated the same?

Image: Getty Images / [Diego Fedele / Stringer]