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These young backpackers thought Australia was safe. They were kidnapped, raped and killed.

Warning: This article deals with sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. 

When overseas backpackers arrive in Australia they’re treated to many wondrous, unique sites: the Great Barrier Reef, thousands of sandy beaches and the vast, stretching outback to name a few.

It’s no wonder so many want to stay longer than the 12 months they’re first entitled to.

To extend their stay, working-holiday visa (417) holders are required to complete 88 days of regional work in order to apply for a second year.

Video by 60 Minutes

This work must be in a ‘specified’ field or industry in a designated regional area. It usually involves farm work, fruit picking, mining or construction.

But the regional work requirement has unwittingly created many dangerous scenarios: A 2016 report by the Fair Work Ombudsman found the 88-day farm work program created an environment where visa holders were regularly exploited.

The Ombudsman found unreasonable and unlawful requirements were being imposed on visa holders by unscrupulous businesses and exploitative work practises occurring in isolated places.

More than a third of the 4000 visa holders the Ombudsman consulted with claimed they were paid less than the minimum wage, and the same number described the work as a fair or poor experience.

A controversial visa extension.

Next month, the working holiday program will be extended, allowing backpackers to stay for a third year with further regional work.

It sounds good on the surface: It gives visitors the option to stay and enjoy this country longer, and increases the number of backpackers available to help farmers in regional areas.

But for others, alarm bells go off: This could increase the exploitation and abuse of workers.

Rosie Ayliffe has dedicated her life to keeping other young travellers safe, after her daughter Mia was killed at a backpacker hostel in Queensland in 2016.

Ayliffe has a large social media following, which she uses to offer support and advice to backpackers planning to undertake regional work in Australia.

She told the ABC she has heard hundreds of horror stories of exploitation and assault.

Ayliffe is critical of the third year extension, arguing it would only increase the number of backpackers exposed to potentially horrific circumstances.

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She and Les Jackson, the father of Tom Jackson who was killed while trying to aid Mia, believe the system needs to be better regulated and has called on the Coroner to recommend an overhaul to Australia’s backpacker industry.

“We feel Mia and Tom’s deaths may been preventable if these systematic issues had been addressed in terms of public health and safety,” the parents said in a request to the Coroner.

Ayliffe told the ABC: “I think the blame lies squarely with the Federal Government because they inaugurated the scheme and they need to make sure that every single hostel and workplace that our young people visit is accessible, compliant and safe”.

Migration agent Mark Glazbrook shares a similar view. He described “a high number” of exploitation cases under the current structure of the working holiday visa program.

“Once that program is expanded then it does increase the opportunity for employers to exploit more people,” he said.

The Coroner will decide if an inquest will be held once the final police report on Mia’s death is in, the Townsville Bulletin reported.

Mia Ayliffe-Chung and Tom Jackson.

mia-ayliffe-chung
Mia Ayliffe-Chung.

Mia Ayliffe-Chung, 20, was just days into a three-month stint on a farm in Home Hill, south of Townsville, as part of her visa extension, when she and fellow Brit, 30-year-old Tom Jackson, were murdered by French backpacker Smail Ayad, 29, who was living with them at the workers' hostel.

Mia was dragged from her bed, in the room she shared with Ayad, and stabbed multiple times in August 2016. He then stabbed the hotel manager in the leg and jumped from the first-floor balcony, sustaining neck and back fractures.

Tom Jackson.
Tom Jackson.
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He then got up and stabbed the hostel owner's dog before returning to the hostel room and repeatedly stabbing Jackson, who had come Mia's aid. Jackson died a week later in hospital.

In 2018, a court ruled Ayad would not be tried for the killings after finding he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and was in acute psychosis at the time of the attack, and was under a delusion that people wanted to kill him, the Guardian reported.

He was detained in a Brisbane mental health facility.

Davine Arckens.

On Sunday night's 60 Minutes, fellow Belgian backpacker Davine spoke for the first time about how she escaped her abuser, a man who had lured her to a rundown hobby farm in rural South Australia promising a job rearing baby calves that would help the now-26-year-old qualify for a one-year visa extension to continue travelling around Australia, a country she’d come to know as a “safe place”.

Chained to the wall by one arm and a leg, Davine thought she was going to die – laying on a grubby black sofa on top of hay and animal faeces in a filthy abandoned pig shed in rural South Australia.

The walls were stained with bird droppings. On the dirt floor exposed to the elements, she could see dead insects and piles of cables. There was a chicken coop and animal pens that clearly used to house farm animals. A dirty fridge sat in the corner.

Davine
It has been two years since Davine, then 24, was attacked. Image: 60 Minutes.
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She was sexually assaulted several times by 54-year-old Gene Bristow.

As it grew dark, Bristow left Davine chained up in the pig shed and went back home to his wife and son. What he didn't know was that he'd left Davine in the same room as her backpack. He hadn't bothered to check it when he took her phone earlier, but inside were her laptop and an internet dongle.

With her one spare hand, Davine reached across to the fridge and found a hook with which she was able to free herself from the chains bolting her to the wall. She grabbed her laptop and dongle, and began messaging anyone she could think of over Facebook to let them know she'd been taken.

Davine's messages were heard. As Bristow was feeding her breakfast and sexually assaulting her again the next morning, police planes were circling the area and Davine's face had been plastered on the front of the Advertiser newspaper.

After being pulled over and catalogued by police near Meningie later that day, Bristow returned to the farm and told Davine they had to leave immediately. He dropped his captive at a motel in town and left her there. She then went to her room, had a shower, and was walking back from McDonald's when an off duty cop spotted her and eventually, a female officer was able to convince her they were there to help her.

In May, Bristow was found guilty of aggravated kidnapping, rape and indecent assault, and sentenced to 18 years in jail with a non-parole period of 12 years and six months for his crimes.

Frances Fairs.

When British backpacker Frances Fairs arrived at the working hostel in regional Victoria, she was shocked by the state it was in. There were holes in the walls, doors that didn't lock and a broken fire alarm, not to mention visible bed bugs, soiled mattresses and a kitchen without running water.

But she needed to stick it out for 88 days. She, like everyone else there, were to work on a nearby farm so they could tick the box on their visa. After that, Frances would be eligible to stay in Australia for another year.

But as Frances told the ABC, she wasn't there for long before the hostel's owner started acting sexually inappropriate.

She wanted to leave, but it was the Christmas period so transport services to Melbourne were limited and she hadn't yet been paid.

Then the owner allegedly threatened to rape her.

He called me into his office and was like 'right here is the deal, you either sleep with me and my girlfriend or I rape you, pick one'," she said. "He said 'I am going to come and pick you up tomorrow whether you like it or not and I have people that will come and grab you, you are not going to be able to resist this' and I kicked him, I kicked him off me."

She packed her bags, called a taxi and fled.

If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual assault, please seek professional help and contact 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

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