Settlement Services International (SSI) has joined the National Advocacy Group for Women on Temporary Visas Experiencing Violence in renewing calls for women’s safety ministers to better protect migrant and refugee women at additional risk of domestic and family violence.
The group is seeking government action to ensure women on temporary visas will have access to basic income and accommodation services when they seek safety from domestic and family violence.
Women’s Safety NSW CEO Hayley Foster said no-one should be forced to choose between complete homelessness and abject poverty, and returning to violence and abuse, no matter what their visa status.
“This is not a statement as to whether anyone in particular should have entitlement to permanent visa status. This is just about being able to escape domestic, family and sexual violence,” Ms Foster said.
The group has also recommended amending family violence provisions in migration regulations to create a new temporary visa for people experiencing domestic, family and sexual violence, and providing long term and sustainable funding for legal services.
“This will ensure people can access the support they need to be safe without the fear of being deported,” Ms Foster said.
SSI’s Manager of Strategic Policy and its DFV unit, Dr Astrid Perry, said, “The safety of women and children has to be put before visa status. It is not acceptable that women and children who are in an unsafe situation cannot access services that will assist in keeping them safe, due to eligibility restrictions associated with their temporary visa status.
“Right now, due to COVID-19, many have lost their income and have no other income streams, which leaves them even more vulnerable to coercive control in an abusive relationship.”
Interim CEO of DVNSW Delia Donovan said that every person suffering domestic and family violence should be able to access income, healthcare, housing, legal advice, counselling and other supports they need.
“Women on temporary visas and their children are not only victims to the crimes of the perpetrator but also to government policies and systems that exclude them from the critical supports they need to be safe,” she said.
The renewed push follows an open letter to Australian and State and Territory governments in April urging ministers to act to ensure the safety of women on temporary visas experiencing violence and their children, whose lives are at risk.
More than 320 groups and individuals are signatories to the letter.
The Australian Institute of Criminology has found two-thirds of women who experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic said the violence had started or escalated in frequency and severity in the three months prior to May 2020.
Ms Foster said the COVID-19 crisis meant those women and children who could not access income, housing and healthcare now faced even greater barriers to leaving a violent partner.
The group is seeking an update on a commitment by government at the federal and state levels to better support women, and action from the COAG Women’s Safety Council on implementation.
The group has called for a number of measures to be implemented including:
- Social security and Medicare benefits so people can access food, other essentials and healthcare to stay safe, healthy and well during the COVID-19 crisis
- Temporary, crisis, social and public housing, rental assistance and Safe at Home programs so people can socially isolate safely
- Free legal advice and representation so people can understand how the law can help keep them and their children safe under migration law, family law and domestic and family violence law
- Free interpreting services so people can understand how to stay safe and well during the COVID-19 crisis and access essential services
- Roll out an equivalent of the Victorian flexible support packages across Australia so people can attend to their immediate material needs when escaping a violent perpetrator
The measures align with an earlier announced blueprint for reform: https://awava.org.au/2019/10/02/research-and-reports/blueprint-for-reform
Members of the National Advocacy Group for Women on Temporary Visas Experiencing Violence who have endorsed the approach:
Australasian Centre for Human Rights and Health
Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA)
Economic Justice Australia
Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia
Jesuit Refugee Service Australia
Settlement Council of Australia
Settlement Services International
Women’s Services Network (WESNET)
Australian Capital Territory
New South Wales
Domestic Violence NSW
Domestic Violence Service Management
Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association NSW
Immigration Advice and Rights Centre NSW
Refugee Advice and Casework Service
Women’s Legal Service NSW
Women’s Safety NSW
Central Australian Family Violence and Sexual Assault Network
Central Australian Women’s Legal Service
Domestic and Family Violence Network Darwin
NT Council of Social Services (NTCOSS)
Women’s Safety Services of Central Australia
Ending Violence Against Women Queensland
Immigrant Women’s Support Service
Women’s House Shelta Collective
Women’s Legal Service Qld
Women’s Legal Service SA
Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania
Warrawee Women’s Shelter
Associate Professor Marie Segrave, School of Social Sciences, Monash University
Domestic Violence Victoria
Federation of Community Legal Centres
inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence
safe steps Family Violence Response Centre
The Humanitarian Group