They thought they were going to New Zealand to make better lives for their families.
They were told they would leave Samoa — a small island nation in the South Pacific — for their larger neighbor, a country with about 25 times the population. Once there, they would work and send the money back home to their loved ones.
Instead, when they arrived in New Zealand, the 13 victims — who cannot be named due to a court suppression order — were confronted with an entirely different situation, legal records show.
Their passports were taken from them. They were kept on a property surrounded by a high wire fence and could only leave or communicate with their family with permission. If they broke the rules, they were assaulted, sometimes so badly that it resulted in scars. When one teenage victim escaped, she was brought back in a car with her hands and wrists tied, Radio New Zealand reported.
Most worked long hours picking fruits from orchards, but they didn’t receive the money they had earned. Instead, it was given to the man who had either directly or indirectly lured them to New Zealand: a Samoan chief named Joseph Auga Matamata.