When Laura * arrived in Tasmania from her home country in 2012, she was heavily pregnant, didn’t know anyone other than her husband, and was in an abusive marriage.
- Domestic violence rates among temporary visa holders increased during pandemic
- In Tasmania, women with temporary visas and victims of abuse have had limited access to legal assistance, with many being referred interstate or remaining in abusive relationships.
- A local organization launched a program this year to provide legal support to those who had not previously had access
“After I came to Australia with him, [the abuse] intensified, ”she said.
“He has full control over me now, he was like, ‘This is my country now. I was the one who brought you here, so you have no rights. You just have to do this. that I ask you to do ‘. “
Laura’s husband used coercive control to abuse her emotionally and psychologically.
He was in control of the family’s finances and she had to ask permission for everything.
“Even to get the son out of the house, I have to get his permission,” she said.
Laura said she lived in constant fear of what he was going to do or make her do.
Leaving the abusive relationship was complicated by the fact that Laura was in Australia on a partner visa.
She said that although the support services were able to ensure her immediate safety, they were not able to help her with her visa status and she was living in fear of being sent back to her home country. ‘origin.
“When my son was born then [my husband] used that as a weapon, he was like ‘I can fire you anytime [your country of origin] and you couldn’t see the son, ever, ever, ”she said.
The Executive Director of the Women’s Legal Service of Tasmania, Yvette Cehtel, said there were more than two million people like Laura on temporary visas in Australia who are particularly vulnerable to abuse.
“Really, visa status can be the cornerstone of the abuse itself and by that I mean the status is used against the person to prevent them from being able to leave, and that actually limits their options. “said Ms. Cehtel.
Caught in a “double bind”
Social and health supports like Medicare and Centrelink are limited for people on temporary visas, putting additional stress on those looking to leave an abusive relationship.
“This can put additional pressure on a temporary visa holder, especially if part of the condition of their visa is that they cannot work,” Ms. Cehtel said.
“As a holder of a temporary visa, if you send your child [to school] then you have to pay the public school fees… and it can run into the thousands every year. “
Ms Cehtel described it as a “double bind”, being unable to work and access social security payments.
Advocates have long called for additional support for abused temporary visa holders, with reports of increased violence during COVID-19.
In Tasmania, the Family Violence Migration Service (FVMS) was launched in March to address the gap in migration support for the cohort.
FVMS lawyer Taya Ketelaar-Jones said the service was unique in the island state.
“This essentially responded to concerns that women with temporary visas who were experiencing domestic violence did not have access to legal support in Tasmania … and were being returned to the mainland for this type of representation,” she said. .
Since the launch of the service, it has experienced constant demand.
“We probably had on average, I would say, between two to six referrals per week,” Ms. Ketelaar-Jones said.
Funding uncertainty for the support service
Laura wished a service like FVMS was there when she needed it and said it would change the lives of others.
“I really wish I had that support when I was going through this situation. It was about all I wanted,” she said.
The FVMS was started with a one-time grant from the Tasmanian Community Fund, but its future is uncertain without continued funding.
“The funding situation is of particular concern to us… we are six months away from this 12 month funding and at this point we have no guarantee of an ongoing funding source, which is obviously of great concern. “said Ms Ketelaar-Jones.
“This service gap does not go away after 12 months.”
Additional complexity for those seeking security
In April, the federal government announced $ 10 million nationally to support temporary visa holders experiencing domestic violence.
The majority of the funding will be used for food, shelter and medical care, with the remainder going to help women access legal advice.
This relief funding will be administered by the Red Cross and women’s legal centers.
Alison Dugan – who is the stakeholder engagement manager for the Red Cross Family Violence Assistance Program – said there has been significant demand for the new program.
Ms Dugan said additional support was essential to enable temporary visa holders to leave abusive relationships.
“We know some women take, maybe, seven times to leave before leaving for good,” she said.
“With the added complexities of people on temporary visas not having real access to traditional services, not being able to get Medicare, in many cases not being able to get Centrelink, it adds these extra layers of complexity.”
* Name changed to protect identity.