PM urged to protect migrant women fleeing violence

A coalition of 135 groups has written an open letter to the prime minister, calling for a guarantee that migrant women on temporary visas are able to access crisis payments when fleeing domestic violence.

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Among the signatories are the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, the Refugee Council of Australia and the Immigrant Woman’s Health Service.

The findings of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence handed down last month recommended that access for crisis payments be made available to domestic violence survivors, regardless of their visa status.

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FECCA chair Joe Caputo said he would like to see that recommendation being implemented but unfortunately service providers report it is not.

“Safety from domestic violence is a fundamental human right and must not be subject to a person’s visa status,” he told SBS. “So we feel that by these women being left behind, they are often forced to go back to violent domestic relationships or an abusive partner because they haven’t got access to services.”

The Salvation Army’s Freedom Partnership to End Modern Slavery provides shelter to victims of trafficking and slavery, a number of whom are migrant women on temporary visas.

Project co-ordinator Laura Vidal said income support becomes the critical issue for migrant women on temporary visas fleeing domestic violence.

“Many of the women who are leaving servitude situations are experiencing a great deal of anxiety around not being able to access the support that they need and often that comes with significant lag times with a change in their situation when they then don’t have access to Centrelink payments.”

She said it is left up to charities to fill the breach and provide support; and they are struggling to handle the load.

“So often those are with us are being supported financially by the Salvation Army until they are in a position when they can have access to a more long-term and appropriate support mechanism,” she said.

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“And our program is entirely funded by the community, so as you can imagine that financial support does have its limits.”

Migrant women on temporary visas are particularly vulnerable when facing a situation of domestic violence, said Xanthe Emery, a senior lawyer from the Immigration Advice and Rights Centre in Sydney.

She said 40 per cent of her cases involve domestic violence; and that the centre gives advice to clients in a similar situation every day.

The language barrier, lack of family support in Australia and lack of knowledge about Australia’s legal system compound the problem.

“I have definitely had clients who were experiencing violence and didn’t know they could call the police, or that was something the police could help them with. They are told by their partners that if they report the abuse, their visa will be cancelled. And that threat is a very genuine fear for them, that they will be deported out of the country very quickly,” Ms Emery said.

FECCA chair Joe Caputo said it is vital that the federal government’s $100 million strategy to tackle domestic violence also include migrant women.

“We don’t want to have any one group at risk in this area. Given the urgencies, we have seen the federal government act on it. We support that strategy. The government ought to make sure that no-one is left behind on this.”