Legal Aid NSW bolsters access to justice for refugees through children’s book

The book is targeted towards survivors of DV

Legal Aid NSW bolsters access to justice for refugees through children’s book

Legal Aid NSW has confirmed its role in the publication of a children’s book that is set to bolster access to justice for refugees who are survivors of domestic violence.

Lost in Books Fairfield launched The Ribbon last month in time for Refugee Week 2023.

Legal Aid NSW’s Refugee Service commissioned the book with the aim of educating refugees in NSW on how they can obtain free legal assistance.

“Many refugee women – particularly domestic violence victim-survivors - want to access legal help but are too scared of being found out to take resources at outreach sessions or public events”, explained Nohara Odicho, community engagement officer at the Refugee Service. “This book is about empowering refugees with the legal resources they need to get help while also educating them and their children about the support available”.

Refugee Service legal officer Lyn Payne told Australasian Lawyer that for refugees, bringing up domestic violence can often be challenging due to social and cultural factors.

“Many women will find it impossible to leave their spouse, fearing ostracisation from their own communities and abandonment by other community supports”, she said. “It can be culturally shameful to speak publicly about your experience of domestic violence, and often women will seek the counsel of religious and spiritual leaders rather than, say, a domestic violence service or the police. Understanding the social, religious and cultural norms that they are operating under is critical to providing people in this situation with appropriate and meaningful assistance”.

Payne added that refugee clients experience a great deal of trauma, and so a “more rigorous” approach is needed in working with them.

“These clients come from a place of trauma, and to then experience domestic violence in the place where they were to find refuge, compounds that trauma,” she told Australasian Lawyer. “For example, when using an interpreter, be mindful, particularly when your client comes from a small community, that the interpreter may well be a part of that community too, and clients can be reluctant to speak freely out of a concern that the interpreter, despite being bound by rules around confidentiality, might disclose something about them”.

Moreover, a legal response is not always a refugee client’s end goal.

“Often these clients do not want a legal response to what they see as a family issue”, Payne explained. “When they do  interact with the law, however, they need to be supported through that experience and the assistance should extend beyond just the criminal justice transaction and include appropriate social supports”.

Odicho, who was instrumental in commissioning the work from Assyrian-Australian writer Monikka Eliah and illustrator Hussein Nabeel, confirmed that since the book was published, families have come forward to inquire about legal matters. The bilingual story has been made available not just in English, but also in Arabic, Dari, Burmese and Swahili; according to Legal Aid NSW CEO Monique Hitter, the provision of legal education resources in a variety of languages is crucial to ensuring that people in disadvantaged communities are given access to justice.

The Ribbon tells the story of a refugee child who moves to Australia with their family. The book is also intended to aid children in processing the emotions they experience as a result of migrating to a new country.

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