Are these Australia's most vulnerable women?
Women on temporary migrant visas are being trapped in dangerous situations because they're unable to access crucial support, with advocates warning the coronavirus is putting them at even greater risk.
: 1300 364 277Despite several inquiries recommending changes to Australia's visa system, advocates say the government has consistently failed to take action, leaving many temporary visa holders experiencing abuse without access to key health and social services, including Centrelink, Medicare and housing. Perpetrators also commonly use victims' temporary migration status as a weapon of coercion, meaning many feel pressured to stay in violent relationships.
With more than two million people in Australia on temporary visas, advocates are calling for urgent protections, with family violence services reporting COVID-19 restrictions have triggered a surge in calls from women locked out of the system.It comes following the death this week of Western Sydney woman, Kamaljeet Sidhu, who was
allegedly murderedby her husband less than a month after police took out an apprehended violence order against him.Ms Sidhu, 27, had moved with her husband from India to Australia two years ago, and was on a student visa at the time of her death.Temporary migration status 'leveraged for abuse'
Michal Morris, the chief executive of inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence, said that since March her service had seen a 20 per cent increase in the number of women calling for help with family violence, many of whom are temporary visa holders.
"Because they're on a temporary visa, they have very limited access to employment and Centrelink benefits. They're also not eligible for any of the government stimulus package supports and ... tend to work as casuals or in industries which were shut down pretty quickly, for example restaurants or beauty salons," Morris told ABC News.
Refuges often have to make "difficult decisions" to turn away women on temporary visas, Morris said, because their lack of income and access to housing often means they have to stay longer than other women fleeing violence.Women on temporary visas do not have the same access to support services as citizens or permanent residents, says Michal Morris.
(Supplied)"We're forcing support services to make really horrible choices. If a woman is in a legitimate relationship in Australia and is experiencing family violence, we need to be able to support her to leave the relationship, but also to recover."
Marie Segrave, an associate professor of criminology at Monash University, said many women also avoid seeking help with domestic violence because they're being coerced by partners who use their temporary migration status as "leverage for abuse".
"The main thing we have consistently failed to recognise in Australia is that perpetrators are enabled and emboldened by the limits on what support we provide to women on temporary migration visas," Dr Segrave told ABC News.For example, Dr Segrave said she had encountered
cases of women on temporary visaswhose partners have forced them to work more hours than they're permitted to, then threatened to report them to immigration under the false pretence they'll be deported. The partners of other women have threatened to withdraw sponsorship of their visas if they do not comply with demands.
"These women are invisible, and the system supports their perpetrators remaining invisible and not being held to account," Dr Segrave said."The refusal to recognise that temporary migration creates specific forms of vulnerability ... means women's safety is compromised repeatedly, because we know what the consequences are."
'Very little, if any, action' takenThese vulnerabilities have been examined in detail by a series of major inquiries over the last decade, all of which have recommended specific and urgent reforms, including to address the inconsistencies in access to services between states.
This includes the Australian Law Reform Commission in 2011, Victoria's Royal Commission into Family Violence in 2016, the NSW Domestic Violence Death Review team in 2017, and the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in 2019.
In its latest report,published in March, the NSW DV Death Review Team said it had made several recommendations directed at the Commonwealth Government to address the vulnerability of women on temporary visas, an issue it said was reflected in "a number of cases" in previous review periods.
This is absolutely a national emergency and we are missing a significant opportunity to address it, says Marie Segrave.(Supplied: Simon Gradkowski)However, it said, "there has been very little, if any, action in response to these recommendations".
The review team said it had been advised by settlement services that "vulnerable or impermanent visa status remains one of, if not the most, significant issue for their clients who are experiencing domestic violence".And the Senate Inquiry into dowry abuse
last year made several recommendationspertaining to Australia's migration program, urging the Commonwealth Government to consider reforms including that family violence protections in the Migration Regulations (1994) be extended beyond certain visa categories and that a temporary visa be made available for holders who are experiencing serious family violence.
But more than a year after the inquiry handed down its final report, the Government has yet to respond.'Women are dying'Hayley Foster, chief executive of Women's Safety NSW, said the lack of meaningful action means frontline workers face "heart-wrenching" situations on a daily basis.
"When we contact these women, say after a police incident, to ask them how they would like us to support them, we feel so helpless in being unable to offer them real solutions," Foster said."It really is a terrible feeling when you go home at the end of the day knowing that women and children are essentially being forced to live in terror because they have nowhere else to go."
The migration system must be reformed so all women on temporary visas can access protections, Hayley Foster says.(Supplied: Women's Safety NSW)Foster said the National Advocacy Group on Women on Temporary Visas Experiencing Violence had told the government that "this is a dangerous gap in the domestic violence service system, with lives at stake" but "we simply haven't seen the political leadership in addressing it".
"We need to reform the migration system so that all women on temporary visas who experience domestic violence and their dependents can access protections, services and justice," Foster said."How urgent is this problem? Women are dying."
A spokesperson for Communities and Justice NSW said the Government was committed to supporting all women experiencing domestic and family violence and funds "a number of initiatives" to help overcome the barriers faced by women on temporary protection visas.
They said the Government had also raised the need for "further support" for victims on temporary visas with the federal government "on multiple occasions"."This was most recently discussed at this week's Women's Safety Council COAG meeting attended by all relevant officials and Ministers," the spokesperson said. "Senior officials are working closely on solutions to address this issue."
Dr Segrave said there had been "some commitment" to fixing the problem, including by recognising it in the fourth national plan to reduce violence against women and children, but that it had "clearly dropped off the agenda"."Women's safety, the rate of family violence in our community, the kinds of harm that are occurring and the long-term impacts — this is absolutely a national emergency," she said. "And we are missing a significant opportunity to address it,."Read more: ABC News »
Funding is a must to educate people on domestic violence prior to relationships. There’s no point in funding a system that it’s only concern is the gender card blame game and government handouts on picking up the broken pieces once it’s been destroyed. yes. but when you don't even bother looking into the other side of this with blokes its not a good thing. perpetuating the soul victim narrative of women further separates us as a country and its time you took a double pronged approach. We all suffer together and in our own way.
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