Domestic violence occurs in every community at similar rates. However, violence against refugee women may look different because of the unique circumstances they are living in. Refugee women also face more barriers to accessing support.
Who are Refugee Women in Ontario?
Refugee women are women who have fled their country of origin and are seeking asylum in Canada. Refugees in Canada may be government assisted, privately sponsored, or have made their way to Canada on their own and make a refugee claim once they are here. Less than 1% of Ontarians are refugee claimants or their family members.
Refugee women are often fleeing persecution from their home country which may include political persecution, sexual violence and violence based on gender identity and sexual orientation. They often face further systemic violence upon reaching Canada.
How is Violence Against Refugee Women Distinct?
This section will cover the specific experiences of violence that refugee women may face. Please add this information to what you learned in the sections on violence against women, the types of violence and the warning signs of domestic violence.
Violence against refugee women is distinct in the following ways:
- The violence may include threatening to withdraw sponsorship
- Refugee women who are going through the refugee claim process may face greater difficulty in receiving services or may feel less comfortable to report violence/abuse to authorities for fear that they will be deported or that the refugee claim will not be approved
- Refugee women are also at risk of violence or abuse by those on whom they depend. Privately sponsored refugees who are experiencing violence or abuse in their home may not feel able to change the situation.
- She may be isolated from others – especially if she has no friends, family or a social or professional networks established in Canada
- She may be abused by someone other than her partner or in addition to her partner – such as a family member, a member of the community, someone who assisted them in coming to Ontario, or a job recruiter or employer
- If she has migrated into a specific community that is tightly bound and isolated from outside contacts, this may impact her ability to access support or intervention. This is especially true if community members support the abuser and minimize or justify his violence. Remember: many small communities may support an abuser and fail to support the woman being abused. This is not unique to newcomer communities.
- In addition to living with domestic violence, refugee women across Ontario may face discrimination on the basis of their refugee status. They also may face discrimination or profiling based on race, ethnicity, faith, language, ability, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and class
What Barriers Can Prevent Refugee Women from Accessing Support?
Gaps in social services can prevent refugee women from accessing support for domestic violence.
- She may have lived through immigration detention upon arrival in Canada, which may make her hesitant or afraid to interact with police/authorities
- She may fear calling the police in an emergency because police may share her information about her status with Canadian Border Services
- She may not qualify for support services because of her status
- She may encounter shelters that are full or do not accommodate her and her children and do not respect her cultural beliefs and practices
- She may face language barriers and there may not be language interpreters available when she tries to access services
- She may not have access to information about Canadian law
- She may not be able to afford the cost of transportation to access services she requires
- She may not be able to afford to pay rent and live on her own
What Legislation and Policies Impact Refugee Women Living With Violence?
Changes to Federal and Provincial legislation impact immigrant women living with violence, and immigrant communities as a whole.
These changes to the immigration system and legislation have a negative impact on refugee women:
The Designated Countries of Origin List: This is a list of countries that the federal government has deemed to be “safe”. Refugee claimants from the countries on this list have a shorter time frame for the claims process (30-45 days for hearings) with no access to appeals, and no opportunity to apply for work permit. This list is problematic because it assumes that certain countries are “safer” for women than others. Women who have experienced violence and are fleeing a country on the “safe” list would have less time to prepare their claim and have no right to appeal their claim if it rejected.
Increased Risk of Detention: Mandatory detention for “irregular arrivals” or being detained indefinitely when a deportation order has been issued are risks that refugee women and their families face.
Cuts to Refugee Health Care: The Interim Federal Health program significantly reduced the coverage for all refugees. This specifically affects women who are experiencing violence who have no access to pre and post natal care and mental health services. In addition, the confusion about the cuts and the coverage as a whole requires significant advocacy on the part of the woman or a service provider in the case of referrals to specialists. In many cases, women are not accessing care until an emergency or are seeing unlicensed physicians.
Bill C-31, Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act: Bill C-31 introduced changes such as removing the right of appeal for refugee claimants, denying health care coverage and work authorization, and created a list of “designated safe countries”, thereby increasing the proof requirements that people seeking asylum from these so called ‘safe’ countries need to provide. After Bill C-31, there was a 70% decrease in the number of new refugee claims. Bill C-31 also restricts options available to women filing gender-based violence claims.
Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015: Bill C-51 gives increased power to Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and increased opportunities for suspicion of terrorism to result in arrest. The Bill also impacts the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in the case of security certificates that allow Canada to detain and deport permanent residents who are considered to be a security threat, without the need to disclose evidence.
Bill S-7, Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act: This act impacts the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Civil Marriage Act, and the Criminal Code with a wide number of amendments, including on polygamy and consent to marriage. The language and focus of the act has been widely critiqued, including by OCASI, to perpetuate Islamophobia and xenophobia.