'Mental torture': Muslim immigration detainees say they haven't been given halal food for more than a year

They are among more than 100 men detained in a Kangaroo Point hotel after they were evacuated from Nauru and Papua New Guinea for medical reasons.

Asylum seekers at Kangaroo Point Cental Hotel in Brisbane on 13 June 2020.

Asylum seekers at Kangaroo Point Cental Hotel in Brisbane on 13 June 2020. Source: AAP

Muslim immigration detainees in Brisbane have filed a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission saying they have not been given certified halal food for more than 12 months.

They are among more than 100 men detained in a Kangaroo Point hotel after they were evacuated from Nauru and Papua New Guinea for medical reasons.

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Many of the Kangaroo Point refugees and asylum seekers are Muslims who eat halal food.

"After research and investigation we find out the food has been provided by Serco is not halal food and this is from the beginning when we arrive in Brisbane,” said Iranian detainee Amin Afravi.

Protesters are seen during a rally in support of asylum seekers detained at the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel in Brisbane, Saturday, August 15, 2020.
Protesters are seen during a rally in support of asylum seekers detained at the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel in Brisbane. Source: AAP

Detainees challenged the guards to show them halal certification and contacted the caterers who are providing the food to Serco, the company responsible for operating the facility. 

The caterers replied that they were not halal certified.

Serco subsequently confirmed to the detainees the current and previous caterers were “not halal certified” but “purchase meat from halal-certified suppliers”.

Serco’s contract with Home Affairs - obtained under Freedom of Information laws - said it “must prepare food for detainees of Islamic faith which meets the requirements of halal meals by sourcing produce certified as halal by a recognised halal food certification organisation”.



Serco declined to comment and referred enquiries to Home Affairs, which in a statement to SBS News said “compliance with the contract is regularly monitored”. 

The department did not say whether monitoring had identified any breaches. 

"My understanding is that they are not following that particular clause of the contract because these two source companies are not halal-certified,” said Ali Kadri, spokesman for the state’s peak Muslim body and main halal certifier, the Islamic Council of Queensland.

“So it’s irrelevant where these companies are sourcing their food from, because their processes, their procedures, the other ingredients they use do not have assurances.

“We are doing enough injustice to them by locking them up without a crime for such a long period of time and if we can’t even provide them, meet their dietary requirements, it's a really horrible form of mental torture.”

 
Serco's contract with Home Affairs obtained through FOI.
Serco's contract with Home Affairs obtained through FOI. Source: Supplied


Assisted by lawyers from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, detainees have filed a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission.

“They feel this is a huge violation and a huge betrayal of their rights, they feel this needs redress. The substance of the complaint is that it has breached their rights to practise their religion,” said ASRC case worker Nina Field.

"Many of the men have significant physical and mental health conditions, they were transferred to Australia because the couldn’t get treatment in Nauru or PNG. Adding this to that mix is not going to lead to good outcomes for their health and wellbeing."

Ms Field stressed that detainees were unsatisfied with Serco and Home Affairs, rather than the third-party caterers. 

“It’s not necessarily the caterers as such, it is actually Serco and ABF that hold the responsibility here,” she added.

Mr Afravi said he had been surviving on a basic diet as the issue played out. 

“Having just rice and yoghurt and losing a lot of weight and I’m 55 kg. I feel tired, weak, dizzy, and I get headaches. I have no choice,” he said.

Meal allegedly provided to Muslim detainees in Kangaroo Point alternative detention centre.
A non-halal meal allegedly provided to Muslim detainees in Kangaroo Point alternative detention centre. Source: Supplied


Recent protests inside and outside the Kangaroo Point hotel have put the spotlight on the makeshift detention centres, referred to as “alternative places of detention” or APODs by the Department of Home Affairs.

For weeks, protesters gathered outside the Kangaroo Point Hotel, joining detainees as they held signs on their small balconies - the only outdoor space they’re able to access.

Under Australia's current immigration policy, introduced in 2013, anyone who comes to Australia by boat will not be permitted to settle permanently, even if they are found to be genuine refugees.

Australian Human Rights Commissioner Ed Santow has previously pushed for refugees and asylum seekers who came to Australia for medical treatment to be released from immigration detention unless "there are serious security concerns about someone".


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4 min read
Published 9 September 2020 at 8:01pm
By Stefan Armbruster