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Human TRAFFICKED !!

Published:
16/09/2016
Author:
Think Local

They promised her a better Iife, paid employment as a housekeeper and permanent residency in Australia. Her family were encouraging but had made it clear she had two options - take the job, or stay in Mumbai and have an arranged marriage.

   Having loved school and always wanting to travel - and not liking her suitor much – 18-year-old Andrea took the job and flew to Sydney.

Her passport was taken when she arrived and she did all the couple's housework washing, Ironing and working around the clock - but she was abused, banned from contacting her family, and wasn't even allowed out of the house.

   “After two years and no sign of my permanent residency, asked about it,” she says sadly, “and was violently attacked by the wife's mother-in-law. I became fearful for my life so the first chance I had to ask for help, I did."

    Later that week she was rescued with military precision, and is now safe, Irving on the Northern Beaches, has permanent residency and is working in the health sector on the lower North Shore. She's one of the lucky ones.

Last month the Global Slavery Index revealed 4.300 people in Australia are enslaved - although the figures are estimated to be much higher - with the majority coming into the country on a valid visa, but then being exploited and becoming enslaved.

    The majority of them are domestic workers and those in other types of forced labour such as restaurants, massage, retail cleaning and forced marriage.

    Laura Vidal national projects coordinator for The Salvation Army’s The Freedom Partnership - to End Modern Slavery -which operates a safe house for survivors of human trafficking and slavery - says Andrea's experience is "not uncommon".

   "Most people come to Australia on a valid visa," she explains. "Domestic workers are one of the highest presenting client groups - we've just had three cases of them last week - and often they have been domestic workers in other parts of the world.  “They come to Australia believing they're going to be paid fairly and are told they'll have the freedom to come and go from their workplace and work regular days, but what we find when they get here, they're forced to live where they work often working 12-18 or more hour days without breaks.

   "There may be violence, and the employers will hold their passport and any other documentation they have, and they're usually not paid - or are severely under-paid - for the amount of work they're doing."

FORCED marriage

The Salvation Army says there has been a significant spike in forced marriage since it was criminalised in 2013, with it making up 44 per cent of the 2015 trafficking referrals.

Freedom Partners' national manager, Jenny Stenger, says there is also a significant and growing number of young women between the ages of 15-18 wanting help.

"We have always been working with woman who had experienced slavery like marriages - marriages where they were believing that they are Ina genuine relationship, but when they get to Australia they actually do find they are in a situation of slavery.

"But we're seeing it now in young Australians. Their parents may not have been born here, so they have this difficulty of having one foot in both worlds. The parents genuinely think they're doing the right thing - they're not cruel or malicious - they just see this that it's their responsibility of doing the right thing.

“They don't want their families to get trouble, but they don't want to be married,” she says. “That's an issue that's been in our communities for a long time, but It's now really emerging because they know there are other options, but because these kids are Australian. It's difficult for them to navigate.”

Waghma Arsala, president of the local North Sydney-based MARWA (Migrant and Refugee Women's Association) says, "Can you believe in this day and age it's happening here? But it is, and for people who find themselves in this situation, it's hard to be brave and speak out, especially if they have spent their whole lives being oppressed." More than 40 of the 200 women in MARWA are from the north shore and northern beaches and Waghma, who migrated from Afghanistan and is also a member of Amnesty North Sydney Action Group, often does radio interviews in her native language, Farsi, in a bid to encourage those enslaved to reach out without alerting their captors. When most people hear the words "slavery" and "trafficked" they think of sex trafficking and in 2013 Crows Nest brothel keeper Chee Mei Wong was jailed for six years after luring four women from Malaysia with the promise of a better life. Instead she kept the students in sexual servitude, forcing them to work 17-hour days seven days a week performing unprotected and demeaning sexual acts, even when they refused or were sick. She told them they had a debt of more than $5,000 to cover airfares, visas and business college enrolment fees, and threatened them with physical harm or deportation if they tried to leave. People were surprised Wong operated in such an affluent suburb, but Shirley Woods, acting head of support group Project Respect, said, "Traffickers are in it for the money and they're trying to find loopholes. I guess that's one of them - work in places where you're less likely to expect it." The trafficking legislation between 2004 and 2012 was fairly narrow, describing it only in the context of sexual services but in 2013 the legislation was renewed and new offences were introduced, which expanded the scope and understanding of trafficking and slavery, including a forced labour offence, forced marriage offence and a servitude offence unrelated to the sex industry. But The Freedom Partnership's Laura says it is important that we break the stereotype that most people have in their mind about slavery in the sex industry explaining, "Like other industries, sex workers are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.However, we think the largest number of victims are working in agriculture, restaurants, commercial cleaning and domestic work. More resources need to be dedicated to uncovering the thousands that the GSI tells us are victims."

    And Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) CEO Cameron Cox agrees, "We have a very robust system, this thought of women chained to beds against their will here in NSW is a myth."

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