Domestic abuse: Stories from migrant women
Undocumented migrant women are the most vulnerable victims of domestic violence. Due to a fear of deportation they do not report abuse nor do they seek support from state services.
"I arrived in Ireland 9 years ago after getting married to my childhood friend. I trusted him blindly but he had an extramarital affair. When I finally opened my eyes to his lies I decided to separate from him. That’s when the harassment and threats started. I arrived here without a visa so I have no legal status.
"He often threatens to expose me to the authorities so I will get deported but my children will stay here. I cannot imagine my life without my children. They are my hope, my strength, my true happiness, my all. They are my reason to live. I don’t want to lose them.
"Since I arrived in Ireland I was a stay at home mom, I don’t know anyone and I am all alone. I don’t know anything about Irish law, legal papers, how the Irish system works, where to look for help.
"I need help to keep my children and I need help to stay in Ireland, this is their only home that they know."
"My name is Jane, I came from Congo. I have been living in Ireland for 6 years. While I lived in the Direct Provision I experienced emotional violence from my husband. He did not allow me to have any friends, he made me stay inside the room so I couldn’t visit anyone. He would even monitor the time I spend in the laundry. He often threatened that he would send me back to Congo because he organised my journey to Ireland. The emotional violence happened often but when I complained about some of his behaviors, he would threaten me with a knife. I was afraid to seek help as I feared what would happen if he knew I had been talking to someone about what was happening in my marriage.
"Things got worse and a friend advised me to seek help. Living in the Direct Provision it was difficult to seek help. I was alone, I had nowhere to go, I was terrified that he would harm me physically if I reported it. When I left the Direct Provision I eventually became brave and sought help. After seeking help, I found peace of mind. I contacted the local domestic violence office. I was convinced that I will be safe and protected. I was taken to a refuge centre."
Did you know? Women living in the Direct Provision face more challenges in seeking help e.g. language barrier, lack of information on supports available, lack of trust for the service provider, fear that their asylum claim might be affected, cultural barriers. There is a need for a proper training of the staff working at the Direct Provision and better access to support services for women living in reception hostels.
"My name is Ayesha. I was still a student when I got married. My husband lived in Ireland. After the marriage I got accepted to a university in the UK. When I arrived in the UK I was already pregnant. The plan was that my husband will join me in the UK, and I will continue with my studies after the birth of our baby.
"Just before I was about to start my exams he manipulated me into coming to Ireland, I was 8 months pregnant. The mistreatment started first with financial control and verbal abuse, then it became physical. I never reported it, I still don’t know why, I should have! I looked for support with his family, but they depend on his remittances so they did nothing.
"Later they started asking me for money too. When things got really bad and when I saw how it affected my child that’s when I stood up to him. I asked for help Teach Tearmainn, an organisation supporting women in abusive relationships. They helped me to stand on my feet again. My biggest fear is that my child will have a void in her heart to grow up without a father figure. I also worry how my relatives will react and what will they say about how my life turned out."
Migrant women are often isolated without the support network of their families. If you experience similar issues know that you are not alone. Reach out to the Migrant Women na hEireann and we will try to link you with women from your community who support each other in a similar situation.
"My name is Khandaa and I came to Ireland in 2016. As a migrant woman from Mongolia I would like to share our story. There are approximately 2 thousand Mongolians working and studying in Ireland. We work hard. We save money for our future. We support our families and extended families through remittances. We often talk about how thankful we are and how lucky we are to be part of this society. Ireland has given us a lot of opportunities to achieve our dreams.
"However, there is a darker element to our existence here in Ireland, some members of our community are undocumented. In addition to the harsh working culture that has been common throughout our history – long hours, low pay and difficult conditions during our country’s period as a Soviet Union state – the concept of labour exploitation and availability to seek state support is not something that is part of our conscience. Patience and endurance are watchwords that all Mongolians live by. The pressure this vulnerable situation brings is frustration and tensions and instances of domestic violence.
"From my experience both volunteering in and as a member of my community I’ve noticed a real lack of information about widely available services in minority languages. This language barrier is preventing many vulnerable people and especially victims of domestic violence from accessing the urgent help and support they need.
"So, with the aim of informing Mongolians and especially the Mongolian women about Ireland and their rights, I started a blog. I wanted to tell people that there are organizations willing to help them, I wanted them to understand that even if they are undocumented, they have a voice, they have some rights and most importantly that they are not alone. In my blog I translate important information and news from English into Mongolian. I also meet Irish human rights organisations to discuss the issues our community faces. I translate information about the work they do and services they provide into Mongolian, and I try to connect people in need with the relevant organisations that could help them."
Khandaa is a one of many migrant women working voluntarily to fill in the gap left by state services. She is providing a vital first contact support to members of her community and is working to support undocumented women to report instances of domestic violence to the authorites.
"My name is Lisa and I come from Venezuela. I got married 9 years ago and I thought we were very happy. I came to Ireland with my husband, and our two sons were born in Ireland. I have dual European citizenship and my husband was allowed to come with me too. Once we arrived, we established a joint account where we deposited all our savings that we brought in to Ireland.
"One day my husband started complaining that we are very poor and we need to be more careful with our money. I started to save money on everything, I only bought second hand stuff. The priority was to have enough money to pay the bills. Many times while shopping for food my debit card was rejected as there was zero money on my account. When I asked my husband for money he would transfer only the amount to cover for the shopping.
"One day I discovered he booked himself a holiday. When I asked him why he is going alone he got very upset and said that we cannot afford to go all together and he deserves the holidays because he works very hard. Later, I discovered we were not poor, we could go on very fancy holidays in a 5 star hotel.
"I discovered he was spending all that money on trips with the woman he had an affair with. After I recognised my marriage was over I took legal advice on getting a divorce. Initially my husband thought he could control me financially to force me to stay with him. His legal status in Ireland depends on me. But I was given the One Parent Family Payment and that allows me to have some financial independence.
"I often think how come it is me that is bearing the punishment for his infidelity? I am alone with two children, I cannot get divorce for the next 2 years while he is still enjoying all the benefits of being my husband. The social services told me to consider going back to Venezuela, but the economic and political situation there is unbearable. I really appreciate the help and support I received so far but I feel like being a migrant woman I am considered too much of a trouble. Everyone wants an easy way out to wash their hands from this kind of cases."
"My name is Clara, I am from Venezuela, I came to Ireland with my boyfriend looking for a new life in a multicultural place, which was always my dream. After we arrived in Ireland and being far from my family and friends he started to act differently. He started asking me how am I spending my money, he told me what kind of food to buy to spend less money.
"We started to fight and we screamed a lot. I got sick of it and I knew I should break up with him, our life was not the life a young couple should have. I was ready to leave him but then I discovered I was pregnant. He said we should get married. Now I know he wanted to marry me not for love nor for the baby but because of my dual European citizenship so he could get Irish residency.
"At some point I stopped having access to our bank account. He managed our money entirely alone leaving me without basic needs while pregnant. I had a difficult delivery but I never got any help from my husband with the baby. He never hugged me, never comforted me, we have not even one photo together from the time of my pregnancy. After I got back to work I was doing night shifts and I was leaving my son under the care of my husband. He neglected our son, he didn't feed him, he didn't wash him, the house was a mess. Our son is on the autism spectrum and my husband verbally abused our son because he makes a lot of noise due to his condition.
"Despite all of that I help my husband to start a small business. I did that to protect the financial situation of the family. Later I found out that he got a separate bank account while me and my baby were struggling for the basics. One day I told it all to my female GP she listened to all I’ve told her and finally she put a name to my situation: domestic violence, I never realised that I was in this situation. I went to Women’s Aid and got advice. I got a barring order and the Garda escorted my husband out of our home. I am safe but I have no money to provide for my son."
Domestic violence doesn’t always have to be physical. Financial control, emotional abuse and verbal harassment are also a form of domestic violence. If you experience similar issues know that you are not alone. Tell your GP, contact Women’s Aid, or one of our network members.
Visit our Gender-based violence campaign to learn more about this issue and find available supports.
Please note that to protect the identities of the women sharing their stories we have used a different name for each of them.