NSW needs to do more to support temporary migrants experiencing family violence, peak body says

Domestic and family violence services in NSW are calling on the government to better support temporary migrants as rates of abuse increase across the country.

There are calls for more funding for domestic violence services to help temporary migrants.

There are calls for more funding for domestic violence services to help temporary migrants. Source: Getty

The peak body for family violence services in New South Wales has called on the state government to do more to support temporary migrant women and children who are at .

Domestic Violence NSW (DVNSW), a government-funded organisation, issued the plea on Tuesday, accusing the state of "lagging behind" when it comes to providing support to the small, but vulnerable, group.

The warning comes as the number of domestic violence clients referred to support organisations following a police incident in NSW jumped by 10 per cent in March, according to Victims Services NSW, with organisations calling for additional funding to meet demand.


"Services have been left high and dry with deficits in their tight service budgets they can’t make up because the NSW government hasn’t provided them with any support," chief executive of Women's Safety NSW Hayley Foster said.

Calls to family violence and sexual assault hotlines have also jumped 19 per cent nationally between March and April, with chief executive of the National Mental Health Commission Christine Morgan describing many homes as a "pressure cooker".

The coronavirus pandemic has meant many people in violent relationships have been forced to spend up to 24 hours a day with their abuser, .

DVNSW spokesperson Renata Field said temporary migrants face additional barriers when attempting to escape family violence due to their inability to access government welfare payments.

“Far too many women on temporary visas risk being injured and killed by a violent partner because their only other option is poverty and homelessness," she said.

The organisation wants the government to ensure income, housing and healthcare support to women and children on temporary visas who are experiencing domestic and family visas.

Other states, including Tasmania, Victoria, and South Australia, have introduced various support packages to support temporary migrants. Last week, Tasmania announced it stranded in the state due to COVID-19. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly rebuffed calls to provide a safety net for temporary migrants who have found themselves without work due to COVID-19, instead .

An Le, a worker at a domestic violence shelter in NSW that cannot be named due to safety concerns, told SBS News they have women on temporary visas referred to them weekly.

In one case, she said a woman had been forced to live in shelters for three years after fleeing her abusive husband with her young son. Returning to her home country is not an option as she fears repercussions from marrying a person outside her ethnic group and ostracisation due to her divorce.

Without access to welfare support or medicare, the woman and her three-year-old son rely on food vouchers from family violence services to purchase groceries, which has become increasingly difficult during the pandemic. She is currently awaiting an outcome on her visa application.

"It's larger than people think, and because there are no supports, the women just return home," Ms Le said, adding that the majority of women they see come to Australia on temporary partner visas.

The cancellation of face-to-face legal appointments and translator services has also deeply impacted temporary migrants attempting to seek help.

"If they are from a small community, when we try to communicate with them, we call up a translating and interpreting line and maybe there are only two interpreters that speak that language and if they are in the community, they know who they are," she said. 

"There are so many layers of complexity, so many layers of safety planning that we need to think of when we work with this group of women."

“We are really concerned about women on temporary visas experiencing violence and their children who are struggling to access food and essentials,” Jane Brock, executive officer of Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association, said.

The NSW Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Mark Speakman, said the government was "committed to supporting all women experiencing domestic and family violence" through funding specialist services which are available to all women regardless of visa status.

"[The] NSW Government has raised the need for support for women on Temporary Protection Visas who have experienced domestic and family violence with the commonwealth," he said.

Women on temporary visas are also eligible to access financial and counselling assistance through the Victims Support Scheme once a crime has been reported, he added.

Earlier this month, the federal government announced an extra $150 million in funding to support organisations working in domestic and family violence over the next two years due to the impact of coronavirus. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the cash injection would go to boosting programs under the existing National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children including counselling support, the 1800RESPECT hotline, Mensline Australia, the Trafficked People Program and other support programs for women and children. 

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit . In an emergency, call 000.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at .

6 min read
Published 29 April 2020 at 5:14pm
By Maani Truu