04 July 2023

woman-shutterstock_168310463.jpgSurvivors of human trafficking and modern slavery are struggling to find places to live with some people becoming homeless and facing risks of re-entering exploitative environments.

This is the harsh reality for people in Australia who have escaped serious exploitation such as forced labour, sex trafficking or forced marriage.

A review by the University of South Australia and the Australian Red Cross has found that human trafficking and modern slavery survivors face several barriers accessing housing or accommodation after escaping exploitation.

These include their immigration status, with more than half of human trafficking and modern slavery survivors supported by the Red Cross on a temporary visa.

UniSA PhD candidate Kyla Raby says Australia has seen an increase in the number of people formally identified as survivors of human trafficking and slavery during the same period as Australia’s housing crisis has intensified.

A recent article published by The Conversation and co-authored by Raby and UniSA’s Dr Nerida Chazal reflects on the rapidly growing issue, with the number of people living in modern slavery more than doubling in the past four years, rising to an estimated 41,000.

“Access to stable housing has a significant impact on survivors – it’s crucial to their recovery but there is a shortage of available and suitable accommodation” says Raby.

“We know we are in the middle of a severe housing crisis, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected housing affordability and the availability of rental properties and accommodation services.”

Research conducted by the Australian Red Cross in collaboration with UniSA involved a survey of more than 100 accommodation providers across the country operating in homelessness, domestic violence, youth, and refugee settlement sectors, as well as modern slavery case workers supporting survivors.

It found the most significant barriers that survivors face when trying to find accommodation or housing after escaping exploitation are related to their immigration status and their inability to secure an ongoing income through either employment or social benefits.

The wait time for social housing in many states is more than 10 years and there are strict guidelines on who can apply. In New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australia Capital Territory, applicants must be permanent residents or Australian citizens to be eligible, with a few exceptions. Survivors on a temporary visa or those with an irregular immigration status cannot apply.

UniSA’s Dr Nerida Chazal says the government’s Human Trafficking Visa Framework (HTVF) is intended to support survivors who are foreign nationals, but its design is limited.

“Survivors are only eligible for longer term visas and support if they participate in the investigation of a human trafficking or slavery offence,” she says.

“This leaves behind survivors who are unwilling to engage with authorities due to their trauma – leaving them unsupported and vulnerable to homelessness.”

Immigration status was also a barrier for survivors being able to access a stable income to pay for accommodation or housing services.

Three quarters of the surveyed accommodation providers require no proof of immigration status.

However, a survivor’s immigration status may not allow them to legally work in Australia, meaning they can’t demonstrate ongoing income to pay for the accommodation.

Some survivors of modern slavery and workplace exploitation might also not be ready to re-enter the workforce after being forced to work excessive overtime, having restricted freedom, or threats or severe violence made against them.

This can manifest in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. For many survivors, workplaces are simply not neutral spaces, but reminders of previous mental and physical violence.

Lina Garcia-Daza, Australian Red Cross’ Acting Lead for Trafficking, Forced Marriage, and Forced Labour says it’s a complex issue that requires a holistic approach to supporting survivors in their recovery.

“We need an approach that includes accommodation services, but also ties in other supports tailored to survivors’ needs that help with their recovery,” she says.

“The lack of accommodation for survivors of modern slavery cannot be addressed in a vacuum. Homelessness is the result of multiple variables including lack of income, immigration status, the lack of specialised trauma informed and person centre accommodation services, and limited resources available.

“Ongoing partnerships and collaborative work between the housing, migrant and modern slavery civil society sectors is vital in overcoming identified barriers in accommodating survivors of modern slavery and working towards safe, suitable and sustainable housing.”


Media contact: Melissa Keogh, Communications Officer, UniSA Media Team
+61 403 659 154 E: Melissa.Keogh@unisa.edu.au

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