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Air and sea transport links make Ireland a 'key target' for international human trafficking

The Azure Forum looked at organised crime across the UK and Ireland and how the two jurisdictions interact.

Image: Shutterstock

HUMAN TRAFFICKING ORGANISED crime groups (OCGs) treat Ireland as a single market and mirror drug gangs in how they commit crime on the island, a new report has found. 

Regular flights and numerous ferry crossings also make the island an attractive target for such gangs, a report by security think tank the Azure Forum has found. 

The report found that crime groups from Eastern European countries such as Romania and Lithuania across Ireland and have been committing acts of human slavery.

The authors of the report – ‘Exploring Serious and Organised Crime across Ireland and the UK’ – interviewed law enforcement officers in Ireland, the North and the UK to come to their conclusions.  

We have previously reported on its findings around corruption in transport facilities such as ports and airports in Ireland. 

The report said there is a failure in collecting credible data but a number of cases of human trafficking have been detected, particularly involving Romanian gangs.

There are also reports involving Lithuanian crime groups involved in the drug trade specifically trafficking people to sell drugs. 

“One notable such case involved a Lithuanian organised crime group that is reported to have recruited and trafficked at least 65 people – most of whom were drug addicts or from vulnerable backgrounds – to act as street dealers selling heroin in various cities on both sides of the Irish border, including Belfast, Dublin, Waterford, Tralee and Cork,” the report found. 

Common Travel Area

The report also outlined a number of well-documented instances of Romanian OCGs exploiting the Common Travel Area between Ireland and Britain by using Northern Ireland to facilitate their crimes.   

The Azure Forum study found that human trafficking groups across Europe had identified the island as a key target. This was due to a large “volume of direct flights to Belfast and Dublin”.

They also identified an increase in direct ferry sailings from Europe to Dublin and Rosslare as a key risk area. 

“In terms of the geography of criminal markets across the two countries (Ireland and the UK), the report finds that many organised crime groups and networks treat the island of Ireland as, in effect, a single market – in particular for drug trafficking and certain forms of human trafficking.

“Such groups ignore the border for the purposes of the transportation and sale of illicit narcotics and the exploitation and ‘marketing’ of victims of human trafficking, whilst at the same time using the different legal and policing jurisdictions to their advantage,” the report found. 

The Azure Forum found that there were serious deficiencies or a “knowledge gap” in the scale of the trafficking for sexual exploitation.

It also said there was a problem around the data associated with labour exploitation on the island of Ireland “due to differing jurisdictional approaches to forced labour and labour conditions more generally”.

While the method of entry to the country appears to be, for the most part, through traditional sea and air routes, gangs are utilising the dark-web to co-ordinate their activities. 

“Indeed, across the island of Ireland, the dark net has been identified by law enforcement on both sides of the border as a distribution channel for drugs, human trafficking and firearms.”

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Grow houses 

One key area highlighted in the report is the use of trafficked people, particularly from South East Asian countries such as Vietnam, who are forced to work in cannabis grow houses. 

“The long-term trend towards large-scale domestic production of high potency herbal
cannabis in the UK and Ireland alike requires significant human input for supervising the plants’ growth, drying-out their leaves, removing their buds, and packaging into bags or blocks for onward transportation and sale.

“With South East Asian organised crime groups active in cannabis cultivation in both countries, and Albanian groups increasingly prominent in cannabis production and sale in the UK, there is a clear correlation between these nationalities and those of
identified and suspected victims of trafficking found in law enforcement raids on cannabis ‘farms’,” it explained. 

embargoed-to-1800-tuesday-september-12-a-uk-border-force-officer-watches-over-passengers-arriving-from-paris-on-the-eurostar-as-officers-from-the-metropolitan-police-service-british-transport-police A UK Border Force officer - the report examines the interaction of people traffickers between Ireland the UK. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

The report also warned the “significant risk” that crime gangs would seek to exploit the large numbers of people, predominantly women and children, arriving from Ukraine. 

The Azure Forum said that it was critically important that a cross jurisdictional unified approach was needed to combat human trafficking.

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