Nala fled her home country due to domestic violence. Now her protection visa has been rejected.

Content warning: This story includes descriptions of sexual assault and domestic violence that may be distressing to some readers.

For years, Nala* and her children were abused at the hands of the man who was supposed to love them.

Nala's then-husband was extremely violent towards his family, both physically and sexually, she told Mamamia when we spoke to her. 

"There was so much family violence. I was desperate for a better life for my kids and I. My daughter was being sexually abused by my ex-husband. For my kids, they just went through too much."

Nala says she felt stuck between a rock and a hard place. Her own family wasn't around; her parents were not in the picture. And members of her then-husband's family were also perpetrators of abuse.

It was after a particularly traumatic incident that Nala decided she had to find safety. She felt that staying in their country of origin – a Southeast Asian country, which we are not disclosing for privacy reasons – wasn't an option.

"He has so much control. He knows all the states of [the country]," Nala says about her ex-husband. "The police did nothing, despite all the evidence we gave them. Plus, the government there doesn't care about women and their safety, and family violence."

Watch: women and violence, the hidden numbers. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

How she and her kids managed to escape was nothing short of miraculous.

They came to Australia on a tourist visa in 2018, and once they were in the country, Nala applied for protection visas. In the meantime, as she waited for the protection visa application to be approved, Nala and her three kids were able to get bridging visas.

"Once we had the tourist visa confirmed, I left very suddenly with the kids. We didn't tell him. We just left and made sure we would be gone when he came home," she recounts.

Nala knew that if she didn't make it onto the plane and safely up in the air, there would be life-threatening consequences waiting for her at home.

"As soon as we landed in Australia, I felt safe. And I felt welcomed."

For the past five years, Nala has built a life for herself and her family in Sydney.

She managed to track down an old friend from her country of origin via Facebook, who helped Nala and the kids settle into a place. Nala paid her friend all the money she had and then managed to start a small catering and food market stall business. 


It's the profits from this small business venture that have kept her family afloat over the years.

"My kids settled into high school and graduated. They're all excelling," Nala says. "One of my daughters is at university. She has come so far – when she arrived here, she still couldn't sleep at night, terrified. None of us have social media still, to make sure he can't find us. Now, after a lot of treatment with doctors and psychologists, my daughter said she feels like a normal person."

But recently, Nala's protection visa application was rejected by the Australian Government – and it's left her in an impossibly difficult situation.

"They said my domestic violence claim is not enough of a reason to seek asylum. They said I could go to another state within my country of origin, but I know he would find us. He would hurt us," she says.

"It's very stressful. I have all the evidence of the violence – from police, media reports, photos, witness accounts, everything. But after all the evidence, they haven't called me or anything. They just rejected the application."

As a result of her protection visa application being rejected, Nala's Medicare card has also been cancelled. She's now been forced to deal with some very costly medical bills.

Unfortunately, Nala says she was not eligible for government support. She still managed to pay her bills, help her children, keep a roof over their heads and pay taxes. But lately, money is very tight.


It's stories like Nala's that remind us of something: Cost of living right now is impacting pretty much every single one of us. But for asylum seekers and refugees, the stakes are far higher.

"People are always initially surprised when I tell them what country I fled from. They think it's a beautiful country. It is, but it's not safe for family violence. Minority ethnic groups aren't safe, human rights defenders aren't safe, and nor are gay people, those from certain religions and lots of women."

Right now, Nala is consulting with a lawyer to try to find the best possible solution for her to stay in Australia, safe and far away from her violent ex-husband.

Marjorie Tenchavez is the founder and director of Welcome Merchant, a social enterprise promoting refugee-owned businesses in Australia via events, hampers and a directory.

For more than a decade she has been working with refugees and people seeking asylum, aiming to showcase this group in a more positive light than they're often portrayed.

"There are a lot of people who fall through the cracks and have no community support whatsoever. So it means a lot to be creating opportunities for entrepreneurs like Nala and promote the skills they have," Marjorie tells Mamamia.

"Nala's story isn't isolated. Currently, there are still 12,000 people in limbo seeking asylum in Australia. And I've met countless other women like Nala, who fled their country of origin due to family violence, among other factors."


Perry Q Wood is the Principal Lawyer at Australian Migration Lawyers. He is also the National President of the Australian Institute of Administrative Law and one of Australia's leading administrative and migration lawyers. 

Speaking to Mamamia, he says sometimes there are cases where a client has fled their country of origin due to domestic/family violence – but often it's a secondary factor or coupled with other factors. 

"In our experience, family violence claims are typically secondary claims for protection. Those fleeing persecution primarily must rely on one of the five Refugee Convention grounds (race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion) as the basis for seeking protection in Australia," he explains.

"Typically, where a person cannot make out a well-founded fear of persecution on the basis of one of the five Refugee Convention grounds, they can seek 'complementary protection', which is owed to a person who faces a real risk of significant harm if they were to return to their country of origin. Those relying on family violence claims often struggle to demonstrate that the state cannot or will not protect them."

Ultimately, the question is whether family violence is recognised as a claim when it comes to a Protection Visa (Subclass 866) application.

"A person will engage Australia's protection obligations if they can demonstrate either that they are a refugee or that they are owed complementary protection. Family or gender-based violence is a recognised basis for granting applicants complementary protection rather than under the 'refugee' criterion."


Interestingly though, there is a specific visa available to those fleeing domestic violence (though they still need to apply for it).

It's called the Woman at Risk (Subclass 204) Visa. But although the Australian Government does still accept applications for this visa type, Wood says it's difficult to secure.

"It's challenging to get due to the high evidentiary thresholds that must be satisfied by applicants. Generally, applicants must be offshore to apply for this visa, unless narrow exceptions apply and they have been permitted to apply whilst onshore. Currently, those exceptions only apply to those affected by the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan."

In a statement to Mamamia, the Australian Department of Home Affairs said individuals, including those who fear family violence, who arrive lawfully in Australia seeking asylum, who are found to engage Australia's non-refoulement (non-return) obligations may be granted permanent protection subject to fulfilling relevant visa criteria and the health, character and security requirements.

To be granted permanent protection, an applicant will need to be found to engage Australia's protection obligations, meaning they must be outside their country of nationality or home country and be unable to unwilling to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution.


The Department said they also recognise that claims related to gender and family violence are complex to assess due to their highly personal nature.

For Nala, her family's fate now hangs in the balance as they wait to see what the Australian Government does next.

"We are good people. We just want a normal life," Nala tells Mamamia. "This limbo, sometimes it's too much for me emotionally. If I can protect my kids and myself in Australia, that is all I want."

Welcome Merchant is currently running a GoFundMe for Nala, to help keep her family afloat financially while she awaits her next visa application outcome. They are also fundraising for Nala to get a food truck, to help her further her income and small food market stall business. If you would like to contribute, you can do so here.

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

*The main image used is a stock image to protect the identity of the woman interviewed. Nala's real name has been changed for privacy reasons, her identity is known to Mamamia.

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.