Irish law offers few protections to victims of trafficking from Ireland or the EU, a solicitor with the Irish Refugee Council has warned.
Stephen Collins said that current legislation provides protections for victims of trafficking found here who are not citizens of the European Economic Area (EEA), but said existing laws recognise that people can be trafficked within their own country.
Mr Collins comments came following the arrests of six people after a man alleged he was being falsely imprisoned at a house in Castletown, Kilpatrick, near Navan, Co Meath.
It is understood gardaí were alerted to the house on Thursday evening by an Eastern European national.
Three men and two women, aged from their early 40s to early 60s, were detained after a search was carried out.
A teenage girl was also arrested at the scene.
It is reported that up to 20 people were found at the house.
“Unfortunately one of the more shocking things about the nature of this kind of offence is that it tends to occur in very ordinary and in some cases suburban locations, so people can be trafficked for a variety of reasons,” Mr Collins told RTÉ’s News at One.
“People can be trafficked for labour exploitation, for sexual exploitation, or for other, even darker reasons than that.
“The majority of these crimes occur in very ordinary situations, it’s not even necessary to cross a border to have an act constitute trafficking.
“So it’s a misconception that it has to be an act where somebody crosses for example from the continent or from Africa to Ireland,” he said.
“In fact, you can be trafficked within a house, technically. The definition of trafficking in Irish law is set very, very wide, and it’s designed specifically to catch the maximum number of acts involved, because Irish law recognises that these events do occur in very ordinary circumstances and locations.”
Mr Collins warned that, unfortunately, anybody can be trafficked.
“One of the big things about the EU issue in this case is that, for example, whilst Irish laws deals comprehensively with prosecuting people who are traffickers, it is less at ease when it comes to offering protection to people who are victims of trafficking,” Mr Collins warned.
“If, for example, the other people who were found last night turn out to be European nationals, then unfortunately there’s very little protection that they can get in Irish law.
“They can, and in many circumstances will, co-operate with the gardaí in their investigating of the crimes, but they themselves can’t, for example, be declared to be refugees, they can’t, for example, be offered protection under administrative arrangements,” he said.
“If a person, let’s say, is a non-EEA national coming from Africa, if and when they came to the attention of the authorities, then they could apply to the gardaí to be recognised or identified as a victim of trafficking.
“If the garda of no less a rank than superintendent decided that they were a victim of trafficking, then they would be offered a rest and reflection period essentially to recover from what is inevitably a very traumatic experience,” he said.
“The problem with that is that the administrative arrangements that contain the rest and reflection period are only available to non-EEA nationals.
“So, for example, European people or Irish people — who can be trafficked in their own country — don’t have the benefit of that protection,” Mr Collins said.
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