Food justice for asylum seekers

Research shows that many asylum seekers on bridging visas in Victoria are literally starving in the midst of plenty in the “Lucky Country.” A new crowdfunding campaign is hoping to change this for asylum seekers around Melbourne.

As a basic human right, getting enough of the right, quality food is important to everyone. Research shows that many of Victoria’s asylum seekers are living in poverty and, for this group, food security is a real and increasing problem.

“From a study we did last year, we know that many asylum seekers have trouble getting enough food to eat, and even more trouble finding culturally appropriate foods,” said Deakin researcher Dr Fiona McKay.

Based within Deakin University’s School of Health and Social Development, Dr McKay works with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) in Footscray to research and address food insecurity.

“We found that over 90 per cent of asylum seekers using this centre were experiencing food insecurity, with around half also experiencing hunger on a daily basis. Many were only eating two meals a day.

“Around half the people accessing the food bank had lost weight since arriving in Australia, not because they wanted to, but because they are literally starving due to chronic food insecurity.”

Dr McKay said that for many asylum seekers, lack of money compounded the issue. While some asylum seekers may have access to a reduced welfare payment of around $220 per week, many are unable to access employment, and live in poverty as a result.

“I found the results of the study really hard to get my head around,” she said.

“I’ve never not had enough to eat. I’ve never lost weight simply because I was hungry, yet these people are starving because of policies that result in significant negative impacts on their health.”

The ASRC’s primary method of addressing food security is its food bank, which receives around $1 M of donated food every year and feeds 250 families each week. However, 18 months ago, in an effort to take more fresh food to more people who need it, a food truck was established to visit the areas where asylum seekers live.

The Food Justice Truck is both a mobile fresh food market and a mobile social enterprise, travelling to a number of sites around Melbourne and offering asylum seekers a range of high quality fresh food at a 75 per cent discount on normal supermarket prices.

In the time the truck has been operating, it has served hundreds of customers; people seeking asylum and the general public, who can purchase food from the truck at normal prices.

Dr McKay explained that what’s needed now is more information about who is shopping at the truck, so that its stock can better cater to their needs.

“At the moment, we don’t know much about the asylum seekers who are using the truck. We don’t know where they’re from, how long they’ve been in Australia, or if they have a job,” she said.

“We also don’t know how many people are being fed by the food bought at the truck each week, where else shoppers are getting their food, if the Food Justice Truck is meeting all of their needs or if anything important is missing from the stock.

“The crowdfunding project will fund research into these questions. Once we better understand the needs of those using the Food Justice Truck, we’ll be able to better cater for their needs and hopefully reduce food insecurity among asylum seekers in the community.”

Dr McKay’s crowdfunding project at closes on 7 December 2017.

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