In 2014, Rafi started working as a driver and chef for a foreign diplomat in his home country. A few months later, his employer asked him to move to Australia for two years to work as her private domestic worker in Canberra. Rafi discussed the job offer with his parents and his fiancée. He had never left his home country and was nervous about being away from his parents and fiancée for two years. In the end, they all agreed that he should accept the job offer as it was a very good opportunity for him.
Before Rafi moved to Australia, his employer asked him to sign his new employment contract which said he would be paid AUD$625 per week for doing household duties and included a two-week break once per year. Rafi was pleased that he would be making enough money to support his parents and fiancée and that he would have a break to visit his family back home.
A few weeks later, Rafi was collected from Sydney Airport and driven to his employer’s house in Canberra where she lived with her husband and two adult sons. As soon as Rafi arrived at the house, his employer asked for his passport. Rafi thought that this was very strange but didn’t want to upset his employer by refusing to hand over his passport.
The next day, Rafi started his new job. Each day, including on weekends, he started working at 7am with a list of tasks to complete, including cooking all meals, ironing, washing, cleaning, polishing shoes and gardening. His employer regularly shouted at him, telling him that he was doing bad work or taking too long to complete tasks. He finished working each night at around 11pm. If his employer decided to host a party, he had to work until 2am. Rafi was only allowed to take a 10-minute break for tea, and then a 20-minute break for lunch and dinner.
Rafi slept in a room in the basement of the house which was also used for storage, so there wasn’t much room for him. He was never allowed to leave the house and never given a day off, even if he was sick. Occasionally he would sneak out of the house, so that he could spend 5 minutes standing outside in the daylight.
After about three months, Rafi told his employer that he wanted to leave. He felt like he was in prison due to the harsh conditions. He asked for his passport back but his employer refused to give it to him. His employer told him that if he tried to leave, the police would capture him and make him disappear. As he’d never been to Australia before, he had no reason not to believe her.
Once a month, Rafi’s employer made him sign a piece of paper saying that he had been paid his salary. She told him that she would transfer his salary directly to his family. She only transferred his salary to his family every few months. The money they received was about one third of the amount promised in Rafi’s contract. When Rafi’s family tried to contact his employer to tell her that they weren’t receiving enough money, she ignored their calls.
In early 2016, Rafi cut his finger and had to go to hospital. By sheer coincidence, he met a security guard at the hospital who could speak his language. He had just enough time to tell the security guard about his poor working conditions. The security guard gave him the contact details of Legal Aid.
A few months later, Rafi couldn’t take it anymore. He was so tired of working in such terrible conditions and his employer had refused to pay him anything for the past three months. He called Legal Aid and they made a plan for him to leave his employer’s house while she was interstate for the day. He then went to the police station to explain what had happened to him.
Rafi came into contact with Salvos Legal when he moved away from Canberra. When we first met Rafi, he could speak very little English and he appeared badly malnourished. He was very nervous about speaking to us, especially as his employer had been making threatening calls to his family. Rafi became very fearful about returning to his home country, as he knew his employer had enough power to arrange for someone to harm him.
In the short term, we worked with The Salvation Army’s Freedom Partnership – to end Modern Slavery to ensure that Rafi felt safe in Australia. We helped him obtain a special bridging visa designed for victims of human trafficking and slavery and assisted him to make a formal complaint to the police about his experiences. Over the course of the next year, we provided detailed evidence to the Department of Immigration to prove that it was not safe for Rafi to return to his home country. Each time we met Rafi to prepare documents, we noticed that his English was becoming rapidly stronger and his confidence was growing. He was completing many different courses and working on a part-time basis.
Rafi was recently granted a permanent visa to remain in Australia. It was a bittersweet moment. He never planned to stay permanently in Australia, but he understands that it’s the safest place for him to reside for the time being.
Currently, Rafi is unable to travel overseas to see his family and fiancée because his employer refused to return his passport. Once we help him obtain a travel document, Rafi hopes to arrange for his family to meet him somewhere safe in Asia. He has been saving up for all their airfares for months now. During this trip, he plans to finally marry his fiancée and hopes to bring her to Australia so that they can start their lives together.