It could happen to anyone: Fiona’s Story


Fiona was a student in her first year of university studying international relations. So when a family friend proposed taking a quick trip overseas to learn import and export, she thought it would be a great opportunity. Little did she know …

Fiona was introduced to Renat, and within days, she received a passport, a tourist visa and a plane ticket.

In the meantime, Fiona’s new “friends” had “improved” her travel agenda. She was now to work as a waitress in a local café for US$ 1,000 a month. Fiona’s mother was suspicious but was quickly assured that her daughter was in good hands. Renat also warned Fiona’s mother that the travel arrangements had cost him a lot of money, and if her daughter cancelled the trip, she would owe him US$ 1,000.

Upon arrival at her destination, Fiona found out that she would not be a waitress, she would be a prostitute. Her passport was taken away, and she was threatened if she refused to obey or tried to run away.

Fiona’s life became a series of hotel rooms, boarding houses, “madams” and clients until she finally tried to escape. She stole her documents and some cash and hailed a taxi. As soon as Fiona entered the airport, she was stopped by the police. The “madam” was with them and claimed that Fiona had stolen her money. Without asking questions, the police ordered Fiona to return with the “madam”. She was resold to another hotel owner and saddled with a new debt of US$ 10,000 to compensate for her misbehaviour. News from Fiona’s country of Renat’s arrest following a petition by Fiona’s mother brought added threats and abuse.

But Fiona did not give up trying to escape. Six months into her ordeal, she finally managed to contact her national Embassy. There, she found out that her name had remained in the Interpol “missing persons” files for months.

With the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and her National Embassy, Fiona was safely repatriated. Her case was investigated by the police and is being heard in court.

ACRATH wants to combat human trafficking through a global awareness raising campaign and works to strengthen the capacities of governments to help prevent stories like Fiona’s from being repeated. ACRATH projects also support the re-entry of victims, like Fiona, into society.

Louise Cleary CSB

Australia, has until very recently, had a punitive immigration system. In late 2000, when visiting the detention centre in Melbourne where undocumented and ‘illegal’ immigrants and refugees are housed in prison-like conditions, I met 3 young Thai women. A Chinese detainee whom we had been regularly visiting had gained their confidence and through him we learned their story.

Tui, Phan and Srinak had been trafficked to Australia by a Thai woman and her Australian husband on the promise of work as hostesses in restaurants. We discovered that Tui had worked in a massage parlour and was over 18 at the time of coming to Australia, but Phan and Srinak had been under-age and had come from rural villages. Their story was the common one of deception, confiscation of passports, brutal ‘breaking in’ practices and extensive exploitation in both legal and illegal brothels in Sydney and Melbourne. They had been subject to debt bondage of $35000 which at that time took 600-700 sexual encounters to pay off. The cruel hoax was that the traffickers in our country have a practice of notifying the immigration department that there are ‘illegals’ in a brothel when the debt bondage has been almost served and they are picked up in a raid. Although we had begun the process of advocating for Tui, Phan and Srinak they were deported – to an unknown future and maybe to being re-trafficked.

Sarah came from a poor family in the Batangas region. At 14 she went to work for a relative as a housemaid and subsequently was forced into prostitution. In 2000, when she was 16 she was sold by her ‘uncle’ as a mail-order bride to an unknown Australian.

She was given travel papers and came to Brisbane where she experienced brutal domestic violence from her ‘husband’ (no legal marriage had taken place) and where she was used as a prostitute by his friends and acquaintances.

When she fought back she was informed she ‘owed’ the ‘husband’ money for her air-travel and keep and had to pay. She ran away and sought help from another Filipina woman.

However her ‘husband’ reported her to the Department of Immigration and she was picked up in a raid on the suburban house where she had found refuge. After several days of questioning in a Brisbane jail, Sarah was taken to Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney where she was held for five months and was subsequently deported to the Philippines.

Later, I met Sarah in the Philippines where she was very determined to assist other young women who have been deceived and trafficked into the sex industry.

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