Finding Safety: Asylum Seeking and Refugee Women Free From Violence
The project in brief
Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia
October 2018 - October 2021
Finding Safety aims to reduce Domestic/Family Violence (DFV) amongst asylum-seeking and refugee women (ASRW) across Western Sydney by developing a model, which facilitates ASRW self-empowerment & leadership in areas of prevention, safety & reporting. It also aims to build common understandings of the key challenges across sectors; and develop best practice in this area.
Finding Safety aims to reduce the incidence of DFV amongst ASRW in Western Sydney by:
- providing spaces and platforms for self-empowerment and leadership amongst survivors and victims of DFV,
- acting as a hub for information, resources, facilitation, and collaboration for NGOs, grassroots groups, and others working separately in the DFV and asylum/refugee sectors in Australia and
- ensuring national-level policy reform to facilitate reporting, increased access to services, and visa pathways for survivors of DFV.
There are a number of factors that facilitated the implementation of the project:
First, there are a number of gaps that the project was well placed to fill. JRS Australia is located in Western Sydney, which hosts the largest ASRW population in Australia, and also grapples with DFV. There is also political interest in addressing DFV, but there is a lack of understanding of understanding, expertise, and attention on ASRW and women on temporary visas more broadly. There is a general lack of evidence and advocacy on the kinds of systemic reforms that could enable a reduction in DFV amongst ASRW in Australia.
Second, Women NSW, a state-level government department committed to funding the project for three years via its Domestic and Family Violence Innovation Fund.
Challenges and how they were overcome
Finding Safety is in its first full year of a three year project cycle. Challenges experienced in the first year include:
- Barriers to accessing the JRS’ Women’s Space, a safe hub for survivors and women at risk of violence, including transport costs, lack of awareness about the space, poverty, repercussions from attending, mental health issues.
- Finding a balance between providing a platform for leaders with lived experience to drive the program and helping them navigate the ups-and-downs of ongoing precarity and limbo.
How they were overcome
Some of the strategies employed to overcome the challenges include:
- Providing transport concessions and money for women to visit the Space
- Working with an advisory committee of ASRW to determine how to make the space as safe and inviting as possible; working with them to conduct outreach to ensure more women attend.
- Building relationships with women who attend over a period of time so that they can be supported with their needs but also encouraged to step up into leadership roles, such as activity coordination or the advisory committee.
Results of the Good Practice
- More than 50 ASRW women have obtained financial, specialist casework, and legal support through the JRS Women’s Space in Western Sydney
- 5 ASRW have taken on leadership roles in the Finding Safety Advisory Committee, in their diaspora communities, and in forums such as the recent roundtable.
- More than 50 civil society representatives working in the DFV and asylum space have received training on the complexities of DFV in the context of visa precarity, and the nuanced solutions required
How the project meets the GCR Objectives
Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance
While existing service delivery models meet the needs specific to people seeking asylum or to women at risk/survivors of violence, models which look at specific DFV risk factors for ASRW women do not exist.
By focusing significant resources on creating ASRW trainers, leaders & advocates, Finding Safety aims to give voice and power to ASRW in a way that does not currently exist.
“Finding Safety” will work with key local NGOs and the local council to ensure that they mainstream approaches to hear, understand, and support ASRW within their spheres of influence and that a concrete strategy addressing the challenges experienced by ASRW at risk/survivors of DFV is developed. This will be accomplished through training of women, women-led empowerment initiatives, training of professionals & volunteers, the development of referral pathways/networks and the influencing/development of a relevant strategy to respond to the challenges experienced by ASRW affected by DFV.
Examples of how this has already taken place include a.) the recent roundtable - Power and Agency in Limbo - held in partnership with Settlement Services International (SSI) and b.) the emergence of the project’s ‘Community Mobilisers’ program which will see ASRW leaders go out to their communities to engage other ASRW on issues of DFV.
The project will continue for the next two years, and we will seek funding for it to continue beyond. Key next steps include:
- Building on the outcomes of the first ever roundtable, entitled ‘Power and Limbo in Agency,’ in partnership with Settlement Services International, bringing together academics, NGOs, and ASRW leaders, looking at needs, and potential policy reforms
- Organising leadership and community mobilising training for ASRW involved in the project so that they can spread the word in their communities
- Grow our activities networks (current includes things like swimming programs)
- Continue training for NGO workers in the DFV and asylum sectors.
Carolina Gottardo, Director, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia