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Australia Faces Growing Human Trafficking Trend

Phil Mercer

Australia's Federal Police are warning that people trafficking is becoming an alarming and growing trend.  While most of the focus is on the smuggling of foreign women into Australia's sex industry, senior officers say there has been an increase of "slave labor" into other sectors, including construction and manufacturing. Federal officials have held a series of forums around Australia to help state and territory police identify both traffickers and victims. 

Most of the women trafficked into Australia come from Asia and Eastern Europe.  They are often tricked with promises of a well-paid job or a place at college, but end up in sexual servitude.   There is also evidence that this type of trafficking is increasing in other sectors, including agriculture and manufacturing.  

Victims are often too scared to go to the authorities out of fear of deportation or because of threats against family members.   

Fiona David, from the Australian Institute of Criminology, says the problem is getting worse.

“A family might bring out a domestic worker from another country to work in Australia as effectively unpaid slave labor around their house," explained David.  "We have also seen situations in the construction industry where, again, people are recruited through very deceptive means to come to Australia and work in what is described as a forced labor or slavery-type situation.”

Australia’s Federal Police have held forums in Perth, Alice Springs and Darwin to help their state and territory colleagues identify both victims and perpetrators.  Officers say migrants who work excessively long hours, who are reluctant to reveal their immigration status or who have little or no choice of where they live or work could have been coerced into forced labor.

Authorities concede that combating the trade will not be easy and convictions are rare because the abused are often too afraid to speak out.

Commander Chris McDevitt from the Australian Federal Police says such vulnerable people need more protection.

“They might be subject to physical violence or they might be under a debt bondage situation where they have to pay an unreasonable amount for being recruited or transported out here and that might build up so they have to buy food from the trafficker," McDevitt said. "Identity documents might be withheld and restrictions of freedom of movement;  those types of things that you would typically associate with slavery-type conditions.”     

There is no reliable information on the number of people trafficked into Australia each year, although various estimates put the figure at around 1,000.   Although many are the victims of organized criminal gangs, Australian authorities say some are trafficked by friends and relatives.

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