Support needed for refugee women

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There is a large demand for support for refugee victims of family violence, but many aren't receiving the help they deserve, Vincent Dwyer reports.

Australia’s challenging conditions for migrants and refugees is making it difficult for refugee women to seek help with issues of domestic violence, according to a family violence prevention group.

A spokesperson for the InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence, Vicki Kyritsis, said Australia needed to have support networks which were more “user-friendly”, and took each victim’s personal and cultural circumstances into consideration.

“I think there are barriers because of isolation and a lack of language,” said Kyritsis. “It’s not that they intentionally avoid (help), it’s just they don’t know how to use it.”

Kyritsis said local support networks needed to be less “judgmental” about refugees as a whole, and to understand that domestic violence is widespread, regardless of culture.

“It’s really important with refugees to understand that when we (InTouch) deal with family violence, we come from a cultural standpoint,” said Kyritsis. “We understand their context.”

Kyritsis also said that while domestic violence could happen to anyone, people needed to remember that refugee and migrant women were particularly at risk.

“It’s not cultural, it’s a gendered issue,” said Ms Kyritsis. “Family violence happens across the board, but you’re more vulnerable when you don’t know how to anchor yourself.”

The InTouch annual report for 2015 found that more than 1000 women of an ethnic background required the organisation’s services.

A similar report conducted by the Domestic Violence Research Centre Victoria (DVRCV) also found that 70,906 cases of domestic violence were reported in Victoria in 2014.

The report also revealed the barriers that prevent refugee and migrant women seeking help for domestic violence, which include language differences and social isolation.

Mariam Issa, a former Somalian refugee and founder of the Resilient Aspiring Women organisation, said refugee and migrant women were capable of speaking about their problems but lacked access to support networks.

“I don’t believe that any of us really need help, we are inherently capable of taking care of ourselves,” Issa. “What we need is support, support from other places.”

Issa also said that much of the cultural “frustration” experienced by refugee families when they moved to Australia was leading to cases of domestic violence.

“The community system has really disintegrated in the west,” said Issa. “Everything (refugees) knew about themselves is being disintegrated in this new culture.”

Former Eritrean refugee and founder of the African Think Tank organisation, Dr Berhan Ahmed, also said that much of the violence experienced by refugee women is exacerbated by the stresses of life in Australia.

“One thing that exacerbates (violent behaviour) is this individualistic society,” said Dr Ahmed. “Therefore, the safeguard for most of these people is their community.”

The shift in gender roles when people come to Australia can create more animosity in refugee and migrant households, he said.

“The balance can shift from the man to the woman overnight, and this can create misunderstanding. That’s the challenge that we face here: how do we get a balance?”

Dr Ahmed said education was essential to achieve this balance, as well as to help prevent cases of domestic violence in refugee and migrant communities.

“There’s no excuse for family violence,” said Dr Ahmed. “We need to educate the people about law and order because they can’t see the consequences.”

For support and information on dealing with family violence contact White Ribbon on 1800-RESPECT (1800 737 732), InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence on 9413 6500, or DVRCV on 9486 9866.