They think they will go to New Zealand to create a better life for their family.
They were told that they would leave Samoa – a small island nation in the South Pacific – for their larger neighbor, a country with a population of around 25 times. Once there, they will work and send money back home to their loved ones.
On the contrary, when they arrived in New Zealand, 13 victims – who could not be named because of a court suppression order – were faced with a completely different situation, legal records show.
Their passports were taken from them. They are kept on property surrounded by high wire fences and can only leave or communicate with their families with permission. If they break the rules, they are attacked, sometimes so badly that they cause injury. When a teenage victim fled, he was brought back in a car hands and wrists are tied, Radio New Zealand reported.
Most work long hours picking fruit from the garden, but they don’t receive the money they make. Instead, it was given to people who had directly or indirectly lured them to New Zealand: a Samoan leader named Joseph Auga Matamata.
On Monday, Matamata was sentenced to 11 years in prison for 10 counts of human trafficking and 13 counts of dealing with slaves – the first case in New Zealand where someone was convicted of human trafficking and slavery at the same time.
He was also ordered to pay 183,000 New Zealand dollars (US $ 122,000) in compensation to his 13 victims to partially compensate them with about 300,000 New Zealand dollars (US $ 200,000) which his family obtained from his criminal acts. Matamata has maintained his innocence.
But while Matamata’s sentence ended more than two decades offensive, experts say that his case is only the tip of the iceberg.
They say that although human trafficking and slavery punishment are rare in New Zealand, the cases are broader than those shown by the sentence. And they warned that more people could become vulnerable to human trafficking in the post-epidemic world.
As spies – or heads – Matamata has a position of authority. In Samoan culture, matai – people who hold the title of family head – are highly respected.
But, according to the judge who sentenced Helen Cull, Matamata abused that belief.
Beginning in 1994, Matamata began inviting family members or people from his village in Samoa to come to New Zealand to work and live in his property in Hastings, a city on the North Island of New Zealand where there are a number of gardens and wineries. All were poorly educated, most could not speak English and some could not read.
The first victim was a brother and sister who were 17 and 15 at the time. The brother hopes to get money to send home to his family, while his sister hopes to complete his education in New Zealand.
Instead, the brother worked for days in the garden, while the sister cooked, cleaned, and helped care for the children – and no one was paid for their work. Matamata limited their movements and physically abused them.
The other 11 victims – aged between 12 and 53 when they came to New Zealand – had the same experience, according to the judgment.
In many cases, Matamata organizes three-month visit visas for victims, rather than work visas that they need to work legally.
The victims were told not to leave the property without permission, and not communicate with their families in Samoa unless Matamata allowed it. They do not communicate with passersby or relate to others at weekly church services. If they do not obey, Matamata “attacks them and creates a climate of fear and intimidation,” Judge Cull said.
Matamata contracts all – except his 15-year-old sister – to the horticultural operator, but then pocketes the money they make for himself. One is given for only 10 New Zealand dollars (US $ 7) per week. Others received 850 New Zealand dollars (US $ 565) for work over 17 months.
Eventually, many victims were deported to Samoa because they did not have the correct visa.
When they returned home, many felt ashamed because they “had nothing to show when they left and were criminalized because of their illegal immigration status,” Judge Cull said in his sentence, adding that shame was exacerbated by especially Matamata status.
“They cannot return to New Zealand to work and many feel this stigma and history will limit their ability to work … for the rest of their lives,” he said, noting that in many cases, coming to New Zealand has worsened their families. ‘financial situation. “Some victims hope for their future, but many still feel guilty and hurt for what happened to them at the hands of (Matamata).”
In a statement after the sentence, the New Zealand immigration and general compliance manager for New Zealand Immigration, Stephen Vaughan, said the sentence acknowledged that Matamata’s violations were contrary to all basic human decency.
“Violations of his beliefs, physical abuse and overt neglect for the welfare of those he means to help are not compassionate and must be condemned,” Vaughan said.
NEW ZEALAND AND HUMAN TRADE
For a long time, there was a perception that human trafficking and slavery did not occur in New Zealand, said Natalia Szablewska, a senior lecturer at the Auckland University of Technology law school specializing in human trafficking.
Human trafficking was only added to the country’s Crime Act in 2002, and more recently in 2010, the head of immigration said there was there is no evidence of human trafficking in New Zealand, according to a paper by one of the country’s top judges.
But it was only after New Zealand expanded the definition of human trafficking in 2015 to include domestic trade, which means there is no need to cross borders, that the country has The first conviction of human trafficking. In 2016, a man named Faroz Ali was found guilty of trafficking Fijian workers into the country.
Experts say that the low number of sentences does not capture the whole picture. According to the Global Slavery Index from the Walk Free Foundation, which is based on estimates using surveys, there is more to it 40 million victims modern slavery throughout the world – and 3,000 victims in New Zealand.
Like all countries, it is difficult to collect accurate statistics because of the hidden nature of crime.
The Matamata case was only purchased for the attention of the authorities in 2017, according to New Zealand Immigration, and court documents say most victims are too shy to talk about their experiences even after they returned to Samoa.
Detective Inspector Mike Foster said the case – which needed help from Samoan authorities – was one of the most complex joint investigations between New Zealand Immigration and the police.
But while we don’t know the true extent, research shows exploitation is happening.
A a report by two academics published in 2019 found that people in New Zealand on student visas or visas assisted by employers were most vulnerable to exploitation. Some interviewees from India said that the education agency had sold them “dreams” of permanent residence in New Zealand. Some borrow heavily to get to New Zealand, and become so desperate when they cannot find a legitimate job that they accept exploitative conditions.
The majority of the 64 migrant workers interviewed as part of this study have been paid low at least one of their jobs, with some wages as low as 3 New Zealand dollars ($ 2) per hour – well below New Zealand minimum wages.
So, if there are more cases, why aren’t more people coming forward?
One reason, according to Rebekah Armstrong, director of the New Zealand-based Business and Human Rights Consultant, is that victims are often afraid that if they complain, they will lose their visa status – and potentially their path to residence. In New Zealand, immigration and labor issues are handled by the same ministry – and Armstrong thinks that it might make some victims not report abuse.
In a 2016 report, a migrant worker interviewed was quoted as saying: “I feel like they (the employer) have me because of a visa.”
WHAT NEW ZEALAND MUST BE DONE
With millions of people worldwide losing their jobs due to the corona virus, experts warn that it could make more people vulnerable to trafficking – including in New Zealand.
“As soon as they are desperate, (people) will go for what are called opportunities where what you are asked to do or the way you are asked to do it is very unfair and below labor standards,” Szablewska said. “Those who are vulnerable will become more vulnerable.”
Gary Jones, manager of trade policy and strategy for the New Zealand Apple and Pear industry group, said that 350,000 migrant workers currently in New Zealand could become vulnerable to exploitation if their work dried up.
The current climate also worries the government. On Monday, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment the word the government will invest 50 million New Zealand dollars (US $ 33.2 million) to reduce the risk of exploitation, which it says is increasing because of Covid-19. The changes include making a new visa to help migrants leave the exploitative situation and increase the number of immigration investigators.
But Szablewska wants New Zealand to follow in the footsteps of other countries such as Australia by introducing the Modern Slavery Law which requires companies to conduct due diligence on their own supply chains. New Zealand businesses operating in Australia that have a turnover of certain thresholds are also subject to regulations.
Szablewska thinks that the Modern Slavery Act will help raise awareness about this problem in New Zealand – and perhaps encourage more victims to come forward.
“I don’t think most businesses in many cases want to rely on forced labor,” he said.
Jones thinks that commercial pressure can be more effective than changing the law.
New Zealand Apples and Pears, for example, have adopted an international framework in which companies must prove that they treat workers well to get their products in supermarkets overseas. If they do not meet the criteria, their product will not be stocked.
The shift – along with other changes such as visa schemes carried over more than a decade ago that provide more protection for Pacific Islanders working in the horticulture industry – make it difficult for people like Matamata to offend, Jones said. But that can still happen, he said.
“If you want to hide something, you can certainly hide something,” he said.