The real rate of human trafficking into Ireland is 50% higher than official figures, a major piece of international research has shown.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland said the estimate tallied with its experience and criticised the “onerous” process for identifying victims of trafficking here.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated the 'dark figure' of trafficking in persons in Ireland, along with Romania and Serbia.
The research document, supported by the Department of Justice, compared the actual figure with the reported number to gardaí.
The statistics show:
The UNODC used a statistical technique to estimate the size of the hidden population, known as 'capture/recapture' – which has been used by academics in Ireland to estimate the numbers using heroin.
The report noted that the number of presumed victims reported to, or detected by, An Garda Síochána was 48 in 2012, 44 in 2013 and 46 in 2014, before increasing to 78 in 2015 and 95 in 2016.
It said the jump in 2016 was attributed to one case in which 23 Romanian men were exploited in a waste recycling plant.
Despite this, the majority of the presumed victims in the period 2012-2016 were female (197, or 63%). There were 94 children among the presumed victims.
It said the majority were trafficked for sexual exploitation (200), primarily women and girls, followed by forced labour (82).
The research said the estimated actual number of victims was “50% larger than the recorded numbers (a ratio of 1.5 in 2015)”.
The ratio was the same in Romania, but was significantly greater in Serbia (6.3) and compared to a rate of 4-5 in the Netherlands.
Researchers said the figures meant the actual victimisation rate per 100,000 people was 3.3 in 2015 (4.5 for females and 1.0 for males).
The report said the estimated presumed victims were mainly female, of non-Irish nationality trafficked for sexual exploitation within the country.
The research said cases of trafficking involving minors were less likely to be detected than adults. It also indicated that the overall discrepancy increased between 2014 and 2016.
Nusha Yonkova, Gender and Anti-trafficking Expert with the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said: “Of significance in the UNODC research brief on Ireland is the statement that through their research methodology, it was possible to conclude that the recorded numbers of victims of trafficking are underestimated by 50% compared with the actual estimated number of trafficking cases.
"This underestimation is unsurprising to the Immigrant Council.”
She said through its independent law centre it provided legal support to victims of trafficking because of the “onerous identification process” required to officially recognise a victim of trafficking.
“We have long called for a simpler, self-identification process so the necessary gender-specific supports needed for highly traumatised victims can kick in immediately," she said.
"It would also mean the associated efforts to tackle this horrendous crime can rely on more accurate estimations of the occurrences.”