The number of trafficking victims in Ireland is underestimated because of “major gaps” in identification procedures, a charity supporting women affected by prostitution says.
Ruhama said European and Irish nationals and individuals in the asylum process are not currently included in procedures for the formal identification of trafficking victims, which is confined to third country nationals. The charity was commenting on the Trafficking in Person (TIP) report, which downgraded Ireland’s efforts to tackle human trafficking for sex or work.
Ireland now ranks alongside Saudi Arabia and Romania as a ‘Tier 2 watch list’ country, after its rating slipped further in the 2020 US Department of State report.
Just 42 suspected victims of sex or labour trafficking were identified in Ireland in 2019. The majority are female and nine are children. Despite almost 500 trafficking victims being identified since 2013, no trafficking prosecutions have been secured to date in Ireland.
“Suspected victims from the EEA (European Economic Area), including Ireland, are not being counted in Ireland’s official numbers, and nor are those who are in the asylum process. This, coupled with the fact that the vast majority of trafficking victims remain undetected, means that we are underestimating the numbers of victims,” Ruhama CEO, Barbara Condon, said.
Multi-agency identification procedures must be rolled out and gender-specific accommodation should be developed as a matter of urgency, she said.
The TIP report now ranks Ireland “among the worst three performing countries in Europe”, the Immigration Council of Ireland said, calling for an independent special rapporteur on human trafficking.
“Trafficking for sexual exploitation in Ireland remains pervasive, hidden and widely spread. This trend mirrors the situation in the other European countries and sadly, migrant women and girls are the largest cohort of victims,” Dr Nusha Yonkova, an anti-trafficking expert with the Immigrant Council, said.
The housing of trafficking victims in direct provision is also “massively problematic”, chief executive of the Council, Brian Killoran, said, supporting calls for specific accommodation for trafficking victims.
Ken Fleming of the International Transport Workers Federation, who was involved in a Labour Relations Court case involving migrant fishermen last year, said suspected cases of trafficking were not being investigated.
The TIP report found that 1,500 inspections involving at least 9,000 workers between 2017 and 2019 failed to identify trafficking victims.
The Government, he added, has “systematically broken every commitment” made before the Labour Relations Court last year, including promises to improve the migrant fishermen work permit scheme. Migrant fishermen, he said, had also received “little or nothing” of the €137,000 in compensation awarded by the LRC last year.
The TIP report made more than a dozen recommendations, including establishing a trafficking hotline.
Responding to the TIP report, Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan said measures are included in the draft Programme for Government to strengthen Ireland’s laws on the smuggling and trafficking of migrants.
"A specialised Garda Unit - the Human Trafficking Investigation and Coordination Unit - is in place and there are in the region of 80 ongoing criminal investigations in relation to human trafficking. While no person has yet been convicted specifically for the offence of trafficking, there have been successful convictions in relation to associated charges," Minister Flanagan said.
He also confirmed that the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) will be designated as Ireland’s independent National Rapporteur for Anti-Human Trafficking and that a human trafficking forum for victims and stakeholders has been set up and will begin meetings in July.