Abused Fiji woman given refugee status

A 40-year-old woman from Fiji who has suffered years of domestic violence has been declared a refugee in New Zealand because a legal authority here says Fiji police have systematically failed to protect women and families.

The Immigration and Protection Tribunal heard an account of the abuse the woman - known as 'BR' - suffered at the hands of her husband before she fled with her son and daughter to New Zealand.

The two teenage children also applied for refugee status but were declined.

The woman's husband would drink heavily and be abusive, demanding and violent.

She endured a "pattern of drink-fuelled beatings, sexual and emotional abuse most weekends over the course of... 14 years."

Coming from an Indian Hindu culture she never considered divorce but on two occasions she called the police.

Fijian-Indian police would come but turned out to be drinking friends of her husband. On another occasion they would not respond to her complaint saying they had no transport.

In 2007 with the help of family she and her children escaped to New Zealand and have been here since. She has now got employment.

The husband has threatened to kill her if she returns.

The tribunal said Fiji's political landscape has been characterised by almost constant change, upheaval and ethnic conflicts and four military coups.

Issues concerning women and their rights had become "secondary to issues of national security, and civil society organisations, including women's groups, have had to work much harder to highlight human rights issues".

It said Fiji had a high incidence of domestic violence and quoted a Fiji Women's Crisis Centre studying showing that 66 per cent of woman had been abused by their partners, with 30 per cent suffering repeated physical abuse and 40 per cent reporting being hit while pregnant.

Fiji women have one of the world's highest suicide rates.

The tribunal says there has been "a systemic failure by the Fijian police to provide consistent and effective protection for victims of family violence".

It noted a military regime decree on domestic violence had led to an increase in complaints to the police but the tribunal found that there was no evidence of an appreciable increase in effective state protection for women victims of violence in Fiji.

The tribunal received medical evidence that the woman suffered battered woman syndrome and she met the refugee criteria of having a well-founded fear for her safety: "The persecution that the mother faces if for the reason of her membership of a particular social group, namely women."

The tribunal found that the children, now 18 and 17, did not meet refugee criteria as they had not been physically abused by their father.