Prisoner no more

June 22, 2018

For Rafi, what should have been a land of opportunity turned into a prison, until the Salvos helped set him free.


In 2014, Rafi started working as a driver and chef for a foreign diplomat in his home country. A few months later, she asked him to move to Australia for two years to work as her private domestic worker in Canberra. 

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.

A few weeks later, Rafi was collected from Sydney Airport and driven to his employer’s house where she lived with her husband and two adult sons. As soon as Rafi arrived at the house, his employer asked for his passport. He thought that this was very strange but didn’t want to upset his employer by refusing.

The next day, Rafi started his new job. Each day, including on weekends, he started working at 7 am with his tasks 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, and he often finished working each night at around 11 pm. 

Rafi slept in a room in the basement of the house, which was also used for storage. 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 five 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, and 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, he was made to sign a piece of paper saying that he had been paid his salary, but she only transferred his salary to his family every few months and the money they received was about one-third of the amount promised in Rafi’s contract. 

In early 2016, Rafi had to go to hospital where he met a security guard who could speak his language. He had just enough time to tell him 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 any more. 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 escape his employer’s house while she was interstate for the day. He went to the police station to explain what had happened to him.

Rafi then came into contact with Salvos Legal. He could speak very little English and he appeared badly malnourished. He was very nervous, as his employer had been making threatening calls to his family and he knew his employer had enough power to arrange for someone to harm him if he went home.

Salvos Legal helped Rafi obtain a special bridging visa designed for victims of human trafficking and slavery and he 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.

The Salvos will continue to help Rafi as he makes plans to finally marry his fiancée, hoping to bring her to Australia so that they can start their lives together in freedom.

Amy Burton, Salvos Legal Humanitarian


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Vol. 139, No. 14 // 11 April 2020

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