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Australia Opens Sanctuary for Trafficked Women

The Salvation Army has opened Australia's first safe house for victims of human trafficking. The charity estimates that more than 1,000 people are brought to Australia each year as modern day slaves, to work in industries such as agriculture or in the sex trade. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

The location of the Salvation Army refuge in central Sydney remains confidential, to protect its residents.

It provides a safe haven for women who were tricked into traveling to Australia and forced into servitude.

The first shelter of its kind in Australia can house 10 women.

Most are from Asia and are afraid to speak publicly about their experiences. Charities say they have been forced to work in the sex industry, as cleaners or maids and also in agriculture and manufacturing.

All were either coerced or lured into traveling to Australia with a promise of a good job and a better life.

Many are from China, South Korea and Thailand, although others have come from India and Eastern Europe.

Sister Margaret, a Catholic nun working with the Salvation Army, says the women are victims of a flourishing trade.

"I mean you would have thought during the days of slavery from Africa and things like that. But to think about it in Australia, I can't imagine it, and it's really horrendous to think that Australians are perpetrators in a way because there is a demand. So when there is a demand the people who are making money out of this will bring them," she said.

Charities have called on the Australian government do more to stop the traffickers.

This week cabinet members met in Canberra to consider the problem.

The minister for home affairs, Bob Debus, is confident the vulnerable will be protected.

"It's a shocking thing, isn't it, that we have to be talking in effect about slavery at the present day and age," he noted. "I guess Australia can consider itself a bit lucky that we have fewer victims of this iniquitous traffic than many other countries. Nevertheless, we've identified 100 victims in fairly recent times and 34 people have
actually been charged with trafficking offences."

The government acknowledges that it needs to find better ways to look after victims, so that authorities can catch the traffickers.

The United Nations says the trade in people has become an industry worth $29 billion. It estimates that two million people are trafficked around the world each year.