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Wednesday 27 September 2023 Dublin: 15°C
# Human Trafficking
Council of Europe body expresses concern at low number of human trafficking prosecutions
Concern was also expressed about the availability of ‘qualified interpreters’ and a lack of specialised accomodation.

THE COUNCIL OF Europe has expressed concern about the low number of investigations and prosecutions in Ireland for human trafficking offences as it calls for the state to “step up its fight”.

The findings are part of a third evaluation round carried out by GRETA –  the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

GRETA is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Council of Europe ‘Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings’.

While it welcomed some of the measures in raising awareness of human trafficking to Ireland, it urged the government to improve its efforts to combat trafficking for labour exploitation.

Sexual exploitation remains the primary form of exploitation, but the number of
people trafficked for labour exploitation – in sectors including fishing, farming, construction, catering and domestic work – grew over the same period, according to GRETA.

The number of presumed victims of trafficking identified by An Garda Síochána in Ireland was 103 in 2017, 64 in 2018, 42 in 2019, 38 in 2020, and 44 in 2021. However, monitors believe these figures “do not reflect the real scale of the phenomenon”.

Legal assistance

In its report, GRETA called on the Irish government to “ensure the availability of qualified interpreters who are sensitised to the issue of human trafficking, at all stages of the victim identification process and criminal proceedings”.

While interpretation services can be accessed as required, NGO representatives and lawyers informed GRETA that the quality of interpreters “varies a lot”, and that interpreters are often “not culturally and socially sensitised” to these cases.

However, it is noted that the Department of Justice is engaging with the International Organisation for Migration on introducing “cultural mediators to facilitate communication”.

GRETA also urged the government to ensure “legal assistance is provided as soon as there are reasonable grounds for believing that a person is a victim of trafficking” and that “trafficking victims are appointed a lawyer with specialised knowledge to represent them”.

This “specialised knowledge” will be applied to “judicial and administrative proceedings, including to claim compensation”.

No victim of trafficking has received compensation in Ireland and GRETA has called on the government to set up a “special compensation fund for victims of human trafficking, funded by the assets confiscated from perpetrators”.

Labour exploitation

While trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation remains the prevalent form of exploitation, the number of persons trafficked for labour exploitation has increased.

However, there have been no convictions for trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation in Ireland, despite the increasing number of identified suspected cases.

According to research by GRETA, some victims refrain from seeking redress in the WRC for fear of losing their employment and visa.

To combat this, GRETA has urged the government to train the Workplace Relations Committee Inspectorate to “enable it to contribute to the prevention and detection of trafficking in human beings”.

While GRETA was informed of investigations related to the fishing industry, no prosecutions were opened for trafficking in human beings due to “insufficiency of evidence”.

However, GRETA stated that “reference should be made to research carried out on the experiences of non-EEA (European Economic Area) workers in the Irish fishing industry”.

This involved interviews with 24 such workers, and over two thirds observed that they could work between 15 and 20 hours a day, while less than half recalled boats being inspected by the WRC.

In response, the WRC said the sample “was not reflective of the inspection activity of the WRC in this sector and may not be representative of the experiences of all fishers in the Irish fishing fleet”.

Specialised accommodation

The report also raised concern at the fact that there is no specialised accommodation facilities for victims of trafficking.

Victims of trafficking are currently accommodated in direct provision centres.

GRETA visited an asylum seekers’ centre in Co Meath and noted that there were “very good material conditions and a range of services and activities”.

However, GRETA recommended that specialised accommodation for victims of trafficking should be established “as a matter of priority”, because the direct provision centres are “not being specialised for victims of trafficking and are not an appropriate environment”.

Elsewhere, GRETA noted that the number of presumed child victims of trafficking identified in Ireland has been very low.

However, it warned that a “lack of reporting and proactive identification of presumed victims contribute to the near absence of child victims of trafficking”.

The government has been urged to establish a “robust child protection system capable of enabling the identification of trafficking indicators amongst Irish and EU children”.

GRETA also called on Irish authorities to ensure “the principle of non-punishment of victims of trafficking for their involvement in unlawful activities, to the extent that they were compelled to do so”.

There is no specific provision in Irish law on the non-punishment of victims of trafficking, and while the DPP “has issued guidelines for prosecutors,” GRETA says “consideration should be given to adopting a specific legal provision”.

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