The Samoan chief was sentenced to 11 years in prison in New Zealand, but experts say he is only the tip of the iceberg


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 about 25 times. Once there, they will work and send their loved ones back home.

Most worked long hours to bear fruit from the gardens, but did not receive the money they had earned. Instead, it was given to a person who either directly or indirectly lured New Zealand: a Samoan chief named Joseph Auaga Matamata.

On Monday, the mother 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 a man was convicted of both human trafficking and slavery at the same time has gone.

He was also ordered to pay 183,000 New Zealand dollars ($ 122,000) to his 13 victims, to compensate for his 300 million New Zealand dollars ($ 200,000) partial compensation from his criminal acts. Matamata maintains her innocence.

But while Matamata’s sentence has been going on for more than two decades, experts say that his case is only of the iceberg.

He says that although human trafficking and slavery convictions are rare in New Zealand, criminals are guilty of those crimes. And he warned that in the epidemic world more people could be victims of trafficking.

State of trust

As a matai – or chief – Matamata had a position. In Samoan culture, matai – the person who holds the main title of the family – commands significant respect.

But according to sentencing judge Helen Kull, Matamata misused that trust.

Starting in 1994, Matamata began inviting her family members or people in Samoa to work and live on her property in Hastings, a city on the North Island of New Zealand, where there are many gardens and winners. All the poor were educated, most could not speak English and some could not read.

The first victims were a brother and sister between the ages of 17 and 15 at the time. The brother hoped to earn money to send his family home, while his sister hoped to finish her education in New Zealand.

Instead, the brother worked long hours in the gardens, while the sister cooked, cleaned and helped with childcare – and neither was paid for her work. Matamata restricted his movements and physically exploited him.

According to the decision, the other 11 victims – who immigrated to New Zealand – were aged between 12 and 53 at the time.

In many cases, mourning held a three-month visitor visa for victims, instead of employment visas they would be legally required to work.

The victims were told not to leave the property without permission, and not to communicate with their families in Samoa until Matamata gave it permission. They were not to communicate with passersby or join other people at weekly church services. If he did not comply, Matamata “beat him up and created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation,” Justice Kull said.

Matmata contracted all except 15-year-old sister – to horticultural operators, but then pocketed the money she earned. One was given as 10 New Zealand dollars ($ 7) a week. Another received 850 New Zealand dollars ($ 565) for 17 months of work.

Eventually, many of the victims were deported to Samoa because they were not on the right visa.

When he returned home, many felt a sense of shame, as he had “nothing to show for his time and criminal for his illegal immigration status,” Justice Kull said in his homogeneous notes, Saying that the situation had deteriorated mainly due to shame by the mother.

“They cannot return to New Zealand for work and many feel that this stigma and history will limit their ability to work … for the rest of their lives,” she said, noting That in many cases, their families were spoiled by their arrival in New Zealand. ‘ economic condition. “Some of the victims are hopeful for their future, but many still feel a lot of guilt and pain for them in (Matamata’s) hands.”

In a statement following the sentencing, said Stephen Vaughan, immigration New Zealand’s general manager of verification and compliance, the sentence recognized that Matamata’s insult “is against all basic human decency.”

“His violations of faith, physical abuse, and harsh disregard for the well-being of people were unconscious and should be condemned,” Vaughan said.

New Zealand and human trafficking

For a long time, the notion that human trafficking and slavery does not occur in New Zealand, says Natalia Szabaleska, a senior lecturer at Auckland University of Technology Law School, who specializes in human trafficking.

According to the paper, one of the country’s top judges, human trafficking was only added to the country’s Crime Act in 2002, and most recently, in 2010, the head of immigration said there was no evidence of human trafficking in New Zealand.
But only after broadening its definition of human trafficking in 2015 to include domestic trafficking in New Zealand did it mean that there was no need to cross the border, as it was the first human trafficking sentence in the country. In 2016, a man named Firoz Ali was convicted of smuggling Fijian workers into the country.
Experts say a small number of criminals do not capture the entire picture. According to the Global Slavery Index of the Non-Profit Walk Free Foundation, which is based on estimates using surveys, there are more than 40 million victims of modern slavery worldwide – and 3,000 in New Zealand.

As with all countries, accurate data is difficult to collect due to the hidden nature of crime.

Mattamata’s case was bought to the attention of authorities only in 2017, according to Immigration New Zealand, and court documents said most victims were ashamed to speak about their experiences even after Samoa returned.

Detective Inspector Mike Foster said the case – which needed help from Samoan authorities – was one of the most complex joint investigations between Immigration New Zealand and the police.

But until we know the true extent, research shows that exploitation is taking place.

A report by two academics published in 2019 found that people on student visas or employer-assisted visas were the most vulnerable to exploitation in New Zealand. Some interviewees in India said that education agents had sold her “a dream” of permanent residency in New Zealand. Some borrowed heavily to get New Zealand, and they became so desperate when they could not find legitimate work that they accepted exploitative conditions.

Of the 64 migrant workers who took part in the interview as part of the study, the majority were underpaid in at least one job, with some wages of 3 New Zealand dollars ($ 2) per hour, as well as New Zealand minimum wages. Was under

So if there are more cases, why are not more people coming forward?

According to Rebekah Armstrong, director of New Zealand-based Business and Human Rights Consultants, one reason victims often panic is that if they complain, they will lose their visa status – and possibly their route of residence. In New Zealand, immigration and labor issues are handled by the same ministry – and Armstrong feels some victims may stop reporting abuse.

In a 2016 report, a migrant workers interviewer was quoted as saying: “I feel like they (employers) own me because of the visa.”

What should new zealand do

With millions of people worldwide losing their jobs as a result of coronovirus, experts have warned that it could make more people vulnerable to trafficking in New Zealand.

“Once they are desperate, (people) will go for so-called opportunities, where what you are asked to do or the way you are asked to do is very unfair and below labor standards,” Szebaleska said. “Those who have become weak will become even more vulnerable.”

What is #MyFreedomDay?

Gary Jones, manager of trade policy and strategy for the industry group New Zealand Apples & Pearce, said that currently 350,000 migrant workers in New Zealand may suffer exploitation if their work dries up.

The current climate is also worrying the government. On Monday, the Ministry of Trade, Innovation and Employment said the government would invest 50 million New Zealand dollars ($ 33.2 million) to reduce the risk of exploitation, which it said was increasing as a result of Kovid-19. Those changes include establishing a new visa to help migrants leave exploitative situations and increase the number of immigration investigators.

But Szebleska wants New Zealand to follow in the footsteps of other countries such as Australia by introducing a modern slavery act that requires businesses to do due diligence on their supply chains. New Zealand businesses operating in Australia that exceed a certain threshold are also subject to regulations.

Zaibulska thinks that a modern slavery act would help raise awareness of the issue in New Zealand – and perhaps encourage more victims to come forward.

“I don’t think that in most cases most businesses want to rely on forced labor,” she said.

Jones thinks that commercial pressures may be more effective than legal ones.

For example, New Zealand apples and pears have adopted an international framework, where businesses must prove they are treating workers well in order to obtain their products in foreign supermarkets. If they do not meet the criteria, their products will not be stocked.

That change – along with other changes, such as the visa plan introduced a decade ago that provides greater protection to Pacific islanders working in the horticulture industry – makes crime harder for people like Mattamata, Jones said. But it can still happen, he said.

“If you want to hide things, you can definitely hide things,” he said.

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