Staff at Villawood detention centre denied Iranian and Afghan asylum seekers the right to celebrate Persian New Year’s, a festival that has been celebrated for more than 3000 years, over the weekend beginning on March 21.
A group of 10 volunteers, including former inmates, were denied the right to take in food during the visit, which occurred during regular visiting hours.
Despite giving Serco, the company that runs the detention centre, more than a week’s notice of the group’s plans, and having been allowed to celebrate in previous years, this year’s celebrations were hampered by a crackdown on visitor access and petty, bureaucratic restrictions.
When the group presented their food items at reception, which included lamb biryani, salads, fruit salads and a special celebratory cream cake, a Serco guard unexpectedly screamed: “No more food.”
When asked for a reason why, the guard yelled: “The decision has been made. The decision is final,” without any explanation. The Serco guard ordered that all food be taken off-site immediately.
Senior Serco staff then selectively picked through food items and only a small proportion of the food was negotiated. The cake was denied entry.
The final straw was the denying of community detention papers issued by immigration as a valid form of identification, which clearly identify someone, containing a name, photo and address.
Former detainees of the detention centre, who had been released into the community under a community detention visa, have been able to visit friends still inside Villawood detention centre, after they presented community detention ID. This has happened for three years.
Three young Afghan men were reduced to tears after being turned away, despite the men being former inmates and well known to security guards.
When quizzed about the Persian New Year “rules” around community detention, the Operations Manager said there had been no change in policy, but reception guards had made a mistake over the past three years when accepting the community detention papers as a form of ID.
Clearly this was a mean-spirited attempt, from the top tier of Serco administration down, to punish those already in detention and their friends, relatives and supporters.