Monday 16 September 2019

'I wasn't allowed to call home or go to church – I was so alone'

‘I couldn’t meet with anybody, I couldn’t make friends. I didn’t know anybody. I wasn’t allowed to call home. I felt completely alone’: Teresa* (* Teresa’s real name has been
changed to protect her identity)
‘I couldn’t meet with anybody, I couldn’t make friends. I didn’t know anybody. I wasn’t allowed to call home. I felt completely alone’: Teresa* (* Teresa’s real name has been changed to protect her identity)
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

TERESA* was just 16, grieving for her father, and struggling to stay in school when a diplomat promised her a new and exciting life in Ireland.

Little did she realise when the offer was made that she was instead being trafficked here to work as a domestic slave.

The African diplomat was planning to move to Dublin and was due to take up a posting at his country's embassy here.

He and his wife wanted to recruit a childminder to look after their two young children, one of whom suffered from a disability.

They offered Teresa the position on a trial basis in their home country after she was introduced to them by a family friend.

"My father had passed away and life was not good at the time. I was supposed to be in school, but it was difficult because I could not afford the fees," she told the Irish Independent.

"They told me they would make my life better and that I would go to school and have an education. I would do house work and help look after the kids, but also go to school," she said.

The trial went well and after a year living with the family, Teresa moved to Ireland with them. Things changed almost immediately.

"They stopped communicating with me like they used to. They weren't close to me anymore. I had to wake up early every morning to do the cleaning, cook the breakfast and iron their clothes for work," she said.

"Then I had to stay in the house all day with the youngest boy, who has autism. I was not allowed to go to school.

"I had no experience or qualification on how to manage that. It was quite hard for me. I didn't know how to handle it."

She would be up at 5.30am each morning and usually did not get back to bed until after midnight.

Such were the restrictions placed on her movements that Teresa, a devout Christian, was not even allowed out of the house to attend church.

"I couldn't meet with anybody, I couldn't make friends. I didn't know anybody. I wasn't allowed to call home. I felt completely alone."

A year-and-a-half later, she confronted the diplomat's wife. "I told her how upset I was and asked her how she would feel as a mother if someone was doing the same thing to her son. She said to me: 'How dare you speak to me like that,' and she hit me. I ended up with a scar on my face. I cried." Not long after, things improved slightly when members of the Jehovah's Witnesses arrived.

"I just wanted someone to talk to. I was so desperate. I felt so helpless. I didn't let the family know as I feared they would stop me meeting them.

"At the beginning I didn't tell them the truth. I was too afraid to. I didn't want them to know what I was going through. I said I was living with my uncle."

Eventually, after several meetings at the house, she felt she could trust them enough to tell them the truth about her ordeal.

Shocked by what was happening, the Jehovah's Witnesses contacted the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI).

But Teresa wasn't sure what they could do.

"They (the diplomat and his wife) had my passport and I didn't even know what type of visa I had."

She also feared the authorities would send her home if she left the house.

"I came here for an education and I still wanted to do that," she said.

On one of the school runs she arranged to meet with someone from the MRCI. "We had a face-to-face conversation and after that I decided I wanted to leave the house."

On the day she finally left, Teresa waited to go until the evening, when the diplomat and his wife were home as she didn't want to leave the children on their own.

"I had packed the clothes I needed and put them in the garage. But when the time finally came to go, I was scared. He was upstairs in the bedroom and the children were in the sitting room watching TV. I tidied up everything before I went, which is kind of funny, looking back."

After that she walked out to a waiting car and a member of the MRCI's staff drove her away.

That night the gardai arranged a hostel for Teresa. They also contacted the Department of Justice to help her get her passport back.

Officers gave her what is called a 'stamp 3', an immigration stamp given to suspected victims of trafficking. This allows the recipient to stay in the country for 60 days while they consider whether or not they want to make a complaint.

Teresa gave a number of statements to gardai, who began investigating her case. She was then granted a 'stamp 4', permission to remain in the State for six months, while the investigation progressed.

This stamp can be renewed up to six times if the investigation is still not complete.

Teresa is now living in south Dublin and has enrolled in a post-Leaving Cert course. She hopes to remain in Ireland and will eventually apply for residency.

"I am interested in doing community work, using the experience of how I was treated to touch other peoples' lives."

In the meantime, the diplomat at the centre of her case has left the country and is unlikely to face prosecution.

* Teresa's real name has been changed to protect her identity

Irish Independent

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