Under Immigration law, if you are sponsored to come to Australia by your husband or wife, it is usually a condition of your visa that you remain in a genuine and continuing relationship with that person for a period of 2 years from grant of the initial entry visa. One of the exceptions to this rule is if you have to leave the relationship due to you being a victim of domestic violence.
At Salvos Legal Humanitarian we act for free in a lot of cases involving victims of domestic violence – women and men, young and old. We are typically referred these cases either by refuges for victims, hospitals and mental health practitioners, the Immigration Department or other welfare agencies.
I recall that in 2011 I was asked to take on a case for a young Turkish lady named Elena whose visa had been cancelled because Immigration didn’t believe that she had left her relationship due to domestic violence – they thought that she had simply made unsubstantiated allegations of abuse in order to leave a relationship with a man who she no longer loved.
Elena had lodged an appeal to the Migration Review Tribunal – she was broke, homeless and friendless, and had no prospect whatsoever of obtaining legal representation to help her navigate an extremely complex appeals process. Well, she was all of those things until one day an older lady from The Salvation Army became her friend and took her in to care for her, provide food, shelter and friendship; and ultimately, a referral to Salvos Legal Humanitarian.
When I was introduced to Elena, I took a critical view of her case similarly to how the Department of Immigration and Citizenship had – not because I thought that she wasn’t telling me the truth but rather because I knew that was how the Migration Review Tribunal would look at her case and I needed to understand how I could prove it as the truth.
One of our other lawyers, Matt Evans and I went on a far reaching enquiry – we spoke with former neighbours, doctors, old employers, overseas family members; all who confirmed that Elena’s story checked out. We paid for a psychological report from a forensic psychologist who does cases at a discount for Salvos Legal Humanitarian clients, which supported Elena’s history and assisted her with a treatment plan to help her get the assistance she needed to deal with the trauma and abuse she had suffered. Now all we were waiting for was a hearing date from the Tribunal.
In the Migration Review Tribunal often it can take a year or more following lodgement of a case, until a hearing date is allocated.
Sadly, in the time it took for Elena’s case to come on for hearing, against our strong advice she travelled to QLD on the invitation of her abusive husband and went back to live with him. It was during this period of brief reconciliation that Elena suffered further violence and was forced into a period of hospitalisation. After this, The Salvation Army lady who had previously helped her and with whom she was still in touch with on Facebook, arranged and paid for a flight for Elena to leave her husband (again) and come back to live with her in Sydney. When she returned to Sydney, we re-engaged with Elena and vowed to assist her in her appeal.
Armed with the medical records of her most recent admission to hospital in QLD, I attended the Tribunal hearing a few months ago and was successful in overturning the decision of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship; Elena was soon thereafter granted Permanent Residency to remain in Australia.
Elena is now doing well – she has some complex ongoing issues as a consequence of her trauma but at least now she is receiving treatment, has the support of friends and is enjoying the certainty of knowing that she doesn’t have to return to Turkey (where she would almost certainly suffer cultural shame as a consequence of her divorce) but rather can remain in Australia and start a new life for herself.