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A chef working at Melbourne “pay as you want” restaurant Lentil as Anything has been placed in immigration detention after his application for refugee status was rejected. Kalaichelvan Murugaiah has worked at the Abbotsford restaurant for two years, according to founder Shanaka Fernando, and has been in Australia for four years. In a Facebook post on Lentil as Anything’s page yesterday, Fernando compared the treatment to Nazi Germany:

“Yesterday our chef Kalai was invited for an interview by immigration and detained. The treatment he received was nothing short of barbaric. This, for a man who has spent 6,120 hours over the last 2 years voluntarily cooking for our community.

“I was with him when this unfolded. We arrived at 9.25 for a routine meeting and announced ourselves at the reception. The immigration compliance officer asked me to wait outside the interview room until he calls me. An hour later he emerged and told me that Kalai ‘is going to be a while’ I asked how long?He said, ‘the gentleman is being detained’

“I was shocked. This was like nazi Germany when the Jews were asked to have a shower. Kalai has been fully compliant and respectful of the laws in this country. If he was told that he has to submit himself to immigration to be sent back to Sri Lanka , he would have said his goodbyes and presented himself, with his dignity intact. Instead, he was berated in the room, taken downstairs and shoved into a waiting van by three burly men and driven to the Broadmeadows transit centre. This is the best that educated bureaucrats could muster in gratitude to a meek, vulnerable human being.”

Fernando told Crikey this morning that Murugaiah was in Australia on a bridging visa and had his application for refugee status rejected. He had appealed through the Refugee Review Tribunal and directly to the minister without success. According to a change.org petition, Murugaiah would be in danger in Sri Lanka from police harassment and people smugglers who have threatened his life. Fernando says that Lentil as Anything employs many refugees and this isn’t the first time he has experienced one of his staff being deported. “One of them actually died in Nepal, after being deported,” he said.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey