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Victims say human trafficking punishment too light

The Samoan victims of New Zealand’s first-ever case of human trafficking and slavery have said the sentence handed down to the perpetrator did not do justice to the pain caused to the victims of his scheme. 

A Samoan man accused of human trafficking and slavery, Joseph Auga Matamata, was sentenced to 11 years in a New Zealand prison and ordered to pay NZD$183,000 in reparations on Monday.

He was found guilty of 23 charges in mid-March this year relating to people trafficking and dealing in slaves with the alleged offences occurring between 1994 and 2019 involving 13 victims.

Speaking to the Samoa Observer, one of the victims, who was taken to New Zealand by the accused with her younger brother when she was just 15-years-old said that the punishment is just not enough.

“We were happy that he is finally behind bars for what he did but when we heard that it’s only 11 years, we thought that it’s a bit too early to release him after those years given the hardship and nightmares that [we have experienced],” she said.

Because she was a juvenile at the time of the crime the Samoa Observer has chosen not to name the victim. 

A relative of the female victim, who was a witness during the trial in New Zealand, Susana Lotolau, agreed.

She often visited the two siblings when they were living with the accused and noticed that things were not right.

She said: “ Those years given to him to serve for his mistakes are just too short and not enough to discipline him. He has hurt a lot of people and children and he deserves more.

“But oh well, let’s just hope he learns his lesson in there behind those bars.”

According to Lotolau, they are in contact with the New Zealand authorities on the payment to be paid to the victims of Matamata's human trafficking scheme.

Matamata was sentenced in the Napier High Court on Monday for taking 13 Samoans to Hastings over the last 25 years and overworking them for little to no pay. 

After being acquitted of one trafficking charge, he was found guilty of 10 charges of human trafficking and 13 charges in dealing in slavery.

In June, the Crown [State] seized Matamata’s property to pay his victims reparations: half of his property including shares in Hastings homes. 

Between 1994 and 2019, Matamata took Samoans to New Zealand for horticultural work. He insisted they worked 14-hour days, seven-days-a-week doing chores for Matamata in his home and allegedly physically abused them if they disobeyed.

Jurors took seven-and-a-half hours to decide on the guilty verdict and at his five-week trial he denied criminal activity, telling the judge “there's no rule.”

Immigration New Zealand General Manager of Verification and Compliance, Stephen Vaughan, says the prison sentence recognises Matamata’s actions and behaviour were abhorrent and went against all basic human decency.

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