JRS Australia’s Finding Safety Project recently launched an innovative training program for frontline staff from across Sydney who work with women seeking asylum at risk or have experienced domestic and family violence (DFV). The training is pitched at the intersection between the DFV and multicultural sectors and aims to bridge the policy and knowledge gaps across them.
As JRS Australia’s Finding Safety Project Officer, Sarah Brown, explains, “Whilst there is DV training and multicultural training, until now, there was no training focused on women seeking asylum at risk of DFV.”
For almost one year, JRS’ staff coordinating the Finding Safety project have been working very hard in order to ensure that the training for frontline workers would be effective and address the needs of women seeking asylum at risk of DFV. Each week, women attend the Finding Safety space and find support, community, and kindness via JRS’ volunteers and staff.
JRS has been at the forefront of providing people seeking asylum and refugees with essential services such as employment and casework support. Disturbingly, in recent years our JRS Caseworkers noticed that women seeking asylum were at high risk of experiencing sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) and less likely to report it than other cohorts of women. JRS started a pilot project with women survivors of SGBV and produced a report “Free from Violence Against Women and Girls” VAWG Report. From there, JRS received funding from Women NSW to launch a project named “Finding Safety” and also opened a women’s-only space located in Parramatta to foster empowerment, agency and education among survivors or those at risk.
The issue of violence is a difficult one to address. As the VAWG report revealed, women often feel a sense of rejection and feel isolated from their communities when leaving partners and reporting violence to authorities. Asylum seeking women survivors also face barriers to access services, and a fear that reporting DFV will have consequences for their protection visa applications or ability to remain in Australia. For some women, the consequences can be incredibly dangerous, and frontline workers must be aware of these risks in order to ensure that they receive the support they need.
Other major challenges for women seeking asylum include the complicated and punitive political landscape of Australia’s migration policies. Senior Solicitor, Isobel McGarity (pictured below), from Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) provided great insights into the multifaceted complexity of the visa process and how this impacts women seeking asylum. Each Monday and Friday, JRS Westmead Community Space hosts lawyers to give people specialised legal advice.
There are huge differences in the treatment of people and this could depend on a multitude of factors such as how and when they arrived in Australia. Some women are often on partner visas, which can make the decision to leave a partner difficult.
For years, the Australian government has promoted a deterrence policy that makes the process of seeking asylum so difficult so that people seeking asylum will return to their countries-of-origin. Unfortunately, for most people that JRS serves, “going home” is simply not an option.
According to Sarah Brown, JRS Australia’s Finding Safety Project Officer, “the first visit from the RACS lawyer today went really well and this is a fantastic initiative for us. The women were really excited to have Hannah there, and many of them were really interested in speaking with her. Today one of Hannah’s clients came to see her, stayed for lunch and participated in JRS’ ‘free market day’. It was really wonderful.”
There are a range of other risks that women seeking asylum face including the risk of homelessness. Asylum seekers are also not entitled to government housing so must rely on private and crisis emergency housing. Other difficulties include that the Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) — roughly 89% Newstart payment — has been almost completely scrapped in recent years.
JRS Australia’s Services Manager, Maeve Brown, revealed on the day, survivors or those at risk have refugee protection claims that are tied to the perpetrator’s claims (often the husband). In this context, it can be a huge safety risk to launch one’s own claim. Common fears of women wanting to leave a domestically violent partner include being deported, and the impact that this has on children.
Many women seeking asylum experiencing domestic violence fear reporting it due to the fear of authority figures and the fear of deportation.
Shatha Jajo, a former refugee from Iraq, and JRS Australia’s Finding Safety Information and Referral Officer, (pictured below, right) highlighted the case of a woman who was beaten after she reported violence to the police. This had a huge impact on the children. The woman left her husband and then received death threats. Right now, this same woman waits in limbo for the Minister to intervene in her protection application case and grant her safety in Australia.