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30 September 2020
Salvos free Karim from 'diplomatic prison'
Karim* came to Australia after being offered a well-paid role in Canberra as the private driver for a diplomat from his home country.
He agreed to take the job for 12 months, even though this meant leaving behind his family and new fiancée. It would be a lucrative way, he thought, to send money home to prepare for his wedding and married life.
However, when Karim arrived, he was surprised to learn that the job was not as a driver, but as the household help for the diplomat and his family. In fact, Karim was not allowed to use the car, or even go outside the grounds of the diplomatic compound, unless he was accompanied by the diplomat’s wife to complete shopping tasks.
Karim was given a storage room as his bed- room and instructed to work long days as a cleaner, kitchen hand and general assistant. Even if he was sick, he was expected to work until after the household went to sleep, and worked long nights whenever the diplomat hosted events at his home. Karim was also surprised to learn that he was not to receive his pay directly, but instead a small amount would be transferred into his family’s account overseas. His passport and travel papers were confiscated, and he was not allowed to spend time on the phone with his family or fiancée.
After a year, Karim asked his employer when he would be able to return home, but these questions were dismissed, and he was threatened. Without his ID and travel documents, speaking no English and with no understanding of Australian laws and systems, Karim felt trapped.
After 18 months, and suffering from a workplace injury, Karim was allowed to attend hospital for treatment. Fortunately, while at the hospital, he met a worker who spoke his language, who informed him that his employer’s treatment was not only abnormal, but illegal in Australia. Karim was able to contact a legal service, which referred him to The Salvation Army Trafficking and Slavery Safe House for support. Karim gained assistance to leave Canberra and relocated to Sydney, where he engaged with the Australian Federal Police to report his conditions of servitude.
Without his passport and in fear of repercussions from the diplomat in his home country, Karim was unable to leave Australia. He was eventually offered a permanent visa to remain in Australia in acknowledgment of his work with law enforcement and because of the danger he faced if he returned home. Karim struggled to complete educational qualifications due to his low literacy, but learnt English and gained work as a kitchen hand and delivery driver. He eventually saved enough money to bring his fiancée to Australia, where they were finally married after several years apart.
Karim has now bought his own car and is finally working as a driver as he had planned. He and his wife are expecting a baby, and have moved out of a share house and into their own affordable two-bedroom property thanks to the Modern Slavery Transitional Housing Program – a joint project between The Salvation Army Trafficking and Slavery Housing, Salvos Housing and the Sisters of Charity Foundation.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy
As told to Rosie, Program Manager, Salvos Trafficking and Slavery Safe House