Rashidah Sajjad says many migrant women have concerns about reaching out to agencies for help.

“Migrant women don’t have to tolerate domestic violence,” says Women’s Refuge.

Migrant women on partnership visas who are in abusive relationships are often given false information about their visa status by their abusers.

The emotional manipulation is an attempt to prevent the woman from leaving the abusive situation or from confronting it, senior whanau support advocate at Hastings and Napier Women’s Refuge, Rashidah Sajjad says.

“A lot of migrants have concerns about reaching out to agencies because they automatically think, or are given false information saying, ‘look if you talk about domestic violence while you’re on a migrant visa it’s going to affect your visa status or you’ll get deported’. Or the abuser would give false info such as, ‘I will take your citizenship away or cancel your residency,’” she said.

Sajjad said she has about ten clients currently in this category. “It’s a very common theme”.

She hopes to raise awareness among this community that that there is help available to them through the refuge. Sajjad, who has been in her role since 2019, was identified early on as someone who could assist with women from migrant backgrounds who came to the refuge, because as a migrant herself, she had been through a similar pathway to residency — initially a student visa, and later a postgraduate work visa — and understood the intricacies of the process.

“There are quite a lot of myths that are going around in the community and I want to provide some awareness that no matter what situation you are in, you don’t have to tolerate domestic violence. 

“We are not necessarily advocating that they have to leave their partner after an argument or an escalated domestic violence incident. It’s about supporting what the client wants. So, if the client chooses to stay with their partner we will make sure that they have all the tools that they need to remain in that relationship whilst being safe,” she said.

Sajjad said the refuge has dealt with all kinds of situations, including ones where clients come to the safe house and then go home and reconcile and some in which things don’t change. Some women come for a break while a protection order is put in place, some want to go back and others don’t. The important part is that whatever happens next is a step forward, she said.

She tells of a client who, after seeking information from the refuge, was able to take control of her personal situation.

“One particular client went back with a protection order and then the next time [the abuse] happened she said, ‘I’m not coming back to the safehouse. We discussed an occupation order and that is what I am going to get this time’. So we were quite proud of her remembering the information.” 

An occupation order gives the sole legal right to the protected person to live in a house. However, in the end an occupation order was not needed – instead the police issued a safety order due to the high level of risk and the abusive partner took all his belongings and left the house for more than 10 days. This allowed the activation of a trespass notice against him.

“This was just because of information that we had given her when she came into our services initially and she remembered it all. So every time she was given this twisted story she would call me for clarification and say ‘He told me this and this and this, is it true?’.  I was able to say ‘no’. She put me on loudspeaker and he could hear it. She was able to become more brave in that situation. She’s now independent, taking care of the children, learning English and learning to drive.”

She says factors like this – lack of English, a driver’s license or even possession of basic documents – can cause a domino effect. If you don’t speak English you have to rely a lot on translators. English courses are not available for free to people on temporary visas.

The main thing Sajjad wants these women to know is that the law is not set in stone. If visa sponsorship is withdrawn then they can apply for a different visa.

“Many people see Immigration as a big black wolf that is out to get them. If you are able to write and tell them your circumstances and get some advice there are visas you can apply for. That’s why they don’t need to get so consumed by the false information – there is always something that can be done.”

If this is too much to navigate the refuge can provide appropriate resources, including lawyers, and speaking to immigration on their behalf anonymously.

“We have been able to get domestic violence visas for clients who haven’t had most of their important documents. We try every possible avenue to contact everyone we can to get the documents and if I can’t, I write it up. Immigration has always done what they can to support these clients and none of them have had to leave New Zealand. That is my personal experience.”

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air


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  1. Wonderful work but aren’t there volunteer groups that can help with English lessons? There is a free online service called Duolingo which is good.

    1. Not for those on temporary visas. If you do know of any available for those who are not yet a resident or citizen, please feel free to share. :)

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