Trafficking: a wake-up call

New Zealand hosts forum on human trafficking.

The myth that New Zealand is free of human trafficking was put to rest at a Salvation Army-hosted forum on trafficking—the three-day Pacific Trafficking in Persons Forum held in Wellington in September. Approximately 70 delegates attended from government agencies, non-government organizations (NGOs), and law enforcement agencies representing all Pacific nations as well as a number of United Nations organizations. The forum was the first of its kind in New Zealand. The Salvation Army Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit, the Australian Institute of Criminology and the Pacific Immigration Directors’ Conference organized the forum.

Before the forum, authorities claimed New Zealand has largely been ignored as a destination for people trafficked for cheap labor or for commercial sexual exploitation.

Auckland barrister Jeremy Bioletti told delegates about a group of 15 Ukrainian women who he claimed were trafficked into New Zealand since 2004 to work in the sex industry. He said that the trafficking involved a criminal gang based in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev with links to Auckland.

Two of the women are his clients; one had her passport seized by a brothel owner when she arrived. He has fought three jury trials on behalf of this client to stop her from being convicted on charges relating to possession of a false passport. He believes she should have been treated as a victim of trafficking rather than a criminal.

New Zealand Nurses Organization researcher Dr. Leonie Walker said a survey of overseas trained nurses working in New Zealand revealed evidence of trafficking. She stated that nurses from developing countries had been deceived into coming to New Zealand, winding up as poorly paid caregivers rather than nurses. She cited cases of newly arrived nurses being made to sign documents under duress, effectively forcing them into bonded labor at below market rates of pay. “I would argue this is definitely people trafficking,” she said.

These revelations sent shock waves through the forum, igniting extensive media coverage in the week following the conference.

Salvation Army justice advocate Chris Frazier said the common aim of the diverse range of delegates is the eradication of the trafficking of mainly children and women through deception or coercion for the purpose of sexual exploitation or cheap or free labor. Frazier told delegates the focus must be on freeing the individuals trafficked and that being mesmerized by politics and less than robust statistics attempting to measure the problem is counterproductive.

Robert Earle is a New Zealand detective who spent four years working undercover in South East Asia, the Americas and Africa, infiltrating criminal groups involved in what he calls the “rape for profit industry.” He told delegates that the same methods he and his colleagues used to rescue women and children and to prosecute traffickers could be used in the Pacific.

Earle envisions the creation of a human rights agency that targets traffickers in the Pacific and links with other NGOs to care for, treat and help repatriate victims. “We will only be successful in combating human trafficking if we can agree to all work together…being able to overlook our differences and focus on what we agree on—that women and children should not be enslaved.”

From the New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga Territory website

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