Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has urged local communities to do more to combat human trafficking in Ireland.
At a mass to mark the World Day of Peace in Rathgar, Dublin, he said just because it is difficult to establish the extent of the issue does not mean that it does not exist.
“The problem of human trafficking is a worldwide challenge. Very often, however, when we think of a challenge as being world-wide, we immediately think it is a problem that exists somewhere else and not close to us,” the Archbishop said.
“We must be very clear: human trafficking is a real problem in Ireland today.”
The Archbishop said the exploitation of people smuggled into the country is hidden in Irish society and one that exists right down to smaller communities nationwide.
Statistics and reports dealing with the issue of human trafficking in Ireland are inconsistent due to the very nature of the crime.
One set of crime figures last year revealed there were 17 alleged victims between January and June, compared to 44 for all of 2013, while there was just one reported case of a trafficked child, compared to 16 for the previous year.
The figures prompted advocacy groups to warn they do not reflect the international experience.
Separately Ruhama, which began 25 years ago offering outreach services to street-based sex workers, reported last year it had worked with 83 women in 2013 who had been trafficked to Ireland at some point.
It also said the number of people illegally brought to Ireland to work as prostitutes increased by 17% in 2013.
Archbishop Martin, who is part of the Santa Marta Group initiative involving clerics and police worldwide working to address human trafficking, said church, voluntary organisations and communities all have a role to play in trying to tackle the crime.
“The indications are that even in smaller Irish communities there are cases of trafficking in the area of sexual exploitation, in the area of labour exploitation, in the exploitation of maritime workers and even in the exploitation of children,” he said.
“Many of those who are trafficked and who live in small Irish communities feel trapped in a world which is heavily controlled.
There are many ways in which local communities can help identify these people who want to free themselves but are fearful of those who manage them. It is easy to simply take no notice of them.
There are many ways in which local communities can notice individuals in their communities who seem isolated.
Together with An Garda Siochána local communities can help build up a picture of possible exploitation which is taking place.”
Meanwhile, in his New Year’s homily, Bishop of Cork John Buckley said the World Day of Peace for 2015 is celebrated in the shadow of the terrible persecutions of Christians in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and in Syria.
He said that it was remarkable that the Christian communities have survived in this region for over 2000 years, back to the time of the Roman empire, but that within the past year they have been wiped out, killed and hunted from their homeland.
He appealed for people to pray for those who were suffering and to those with responsibility to do whatever they could to highlight and end this injustice.
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