Within a few months of moving to Australia on a partner visa, Mariam started to experience violence at her partner’s hands.
She decided to leave her abusive partner when she was five months pregnant and has since been living in a crisis refuge for the past three years with her son.
“He became more violent once I was pregnant,” Mariam (not her real name) said in a statement.
“I can’t go back overseas now because I might be abused for being divorced or having a child with a person from a different ethnic group.
“My son is now three and I worry he could be abused or ostracised for his mixed ethnicity.”
Unable to claim Centrelink benefits because of her visa status, Mariam relies on weekly food vouchers from domestic and family violence services and support groups for free activities.
The uncertainty of her immigration status has affected her mental health significantly as well as her physical health because of the barriers to renewing her Medicare card.
She is also ineligible for the government child care subsidy.
“I haven’t been able to settle in a home and community and the local hospital said they will start charging me as an overseas visitor for any treatment, specialist consultations and hospital stays,” Mariam said.
“I have been feeling more isolated during COVID-19 because the services are now being run online and I can only afford a little bit of phone credit and internet a month.”
Family and domestic violence advocates are calling on the NSW government to support women such as Mariam during the virus crisis with income, housing and healthcare assistance.
This should be extended to all temporary visas including partner, family, student, work, visitor and bridging, they say.
Domestic Violence NSW spokesperson Renata Field said the anxiety of being unable to leave the country during COVID-19 presents further challenges to these vulnerable individuals.
“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,” Ms Field said in a statement.
“In the midst of a pandemic, a woman should not have to worry about her safety, how she’s going to feed her child and keep healthy and safe,” Ms Field said.
National Advocacy Group for Women on Temporary Visas Experiencing Violence – a group of more than 60 state and national peak bodies – wrote to state and federal ministers on 3 April to share their increased concerns about safety amid COVID-19.
NSW opposition spokeswoman for the prevention of domestic violence Trish Doyle told AAP she has also been advocating for the cause, hoping to make these individuals feel more safe and secure in NSW.
“All women and children, regardless of visa status, deserve to be protected if in an unsafe situation of domestic violence,” she said on Friday.
“At a time when most people are feeling unsure about what we’re in for over the coming months, spare a thought for those that are at home where it is not a safe place.”
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