Migrant women forced to stay in abusive relationships, refuges warn

According to Anna Kerr, co-chair of the Women and Girl’s Rights Subcommittee of the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights advocacy group, “women’s refuges are frequently unable or unwilling to accept women who do not have a visa status that qualifies them for Centrelink payments”.

A 2016 survey conducted by the Coalition for Women’s Refuges found only 61 per cent reported being always able to take women without residency, with one in five reporting they had no ability to take women in such circumstances.

Julie Stewart, a member of the coalition, has been working in the domestic violence sector for more than 30 years. As CEO of Manly-Warringah Women’s Resource Centre, a service where she has worked since 2011 and which is listed as a specialist homelessness service on the FACS website, she says general homelessness shelters are often “inappropriate” for women fleeing abusive situations.

Stewart has observed a clear difference between the services her centre was able to offer before and after the 2014 reforms, which saw the shelter’s annual funding decrease by $500,000.

In Stewart’s experience, whether migrant women end up receiving any support varies greatly depending on the type of visa they hold, and whether they have children born in Australia.

“We believe that a woman who has arrived in Australia on a spousal visa, mostly on the promise of a better life, and has subsequently been abused, beaten, deprived, kept as a slave, exploited, discarded should be supported by the Commonwealth government who enabled their entry into Australia in the first instance.”


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