Stand Against Slavery chief warns Kiwi travellers: 'Don't trust anybody'

An anti-slavery advocate has warned Kiwi travellers to be vigilant after a New Zealand woman revealed she came close to being abducted by human-traffickers in Thailand. 

"My best bit of advice is don't trust anybody," said Stand Against Slavery chief executive Peter Mihaere, telling The AM Show on Monday social media has made it easier for traffickers to follow people over time to track their movements. 

"Human trafficking involves sophisticated criminal networks. People are very sophisticated at doing it and they will take their time in which to hunt and find the people they want and then they will execute that," he said. 

Stand Against Slavery, a non-profit consulting advocacy group, is concerned about the 40 million estimated slaves in the world, and Mr Mihaere says New Zealanders need to understand the risks in travelling to "hotspot" locations. 

"Wherever there is a lot of action in terms of tourism then that's where you'll see the underbelly happening around casing out people for potential trafficking," he told The AM Show, warning people to be careful in popular tourist spots such as Bali and Phuket.

The unnamed New Zealand woman who came close to being abducted was holidaying in Phuket in 2016 when she claims her drink was spiked while at a pub. She told NZME a suspicious Russian man tried to lure her away from her fiancée, and suspects he was a trafficker. 

"They're looking for vulnerability. A lot of people think it's all about beauty, but there is an appetite for everything," Mr Mihaere said. "Therefore, every child and every person is vulnerable."

He said it's important for inexperienced travellers to be aware of what to look for when travelling internationally, because Kiwis are "adventurous" and will "try things that most other people" wouldn't. 

"You need to have your guard up all the time. Always travel with more than one person if you possibly can."

The Human Rights Commission has listed signs to look for that could suggest a person has been trafficked. It points to those who seem like their movement is controlled, have limited contact with their families, or have false identity, among others.  

Although most detected victims of human trafficking are still women, children and men now make up larger shares of the total number of victims than they did a decade ago, according to a United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime 2016 report.  

In 2014, children comprised 28 percent of detected victims, and men, 21 percent.

Trafficking for sexual exploitation and for forced labour are the most prominently detected forms, the report says, but trafficking victims can also be exploited in many other ways. 

"Victims are trafficked to be used as beggars, for forced or sham marriages, benefit fraud, production of pornography or for organ removal, to mention some of the forms countries have reported."

And New Zealand is far from immune. Last month a woman was arrested and charged with trafficking Fijian people who were brought to New Zealand and "heavily" exploited. 

Victims were promised visa or work permits and had money taken from them to supposedly pay for their visa applications.

Human trafficking is condemned as a violation of human rights by international conventions.


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