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Concerns over Irish procedures for handling domestic slavery cases

The MRCI, which has dealt with over 200 cases in the last six years, says there are lessons to be learned from this week’s high-profile case in London.

Image: young woman via Shutterstock

THE DIRECTOR OF the Migrant Rights Centre in Ireland has said that a two-month long ‘recovery and reflection’ period for those freed from forced labour situations needs to be properly resourced and enforced by agencies here.

It follows the high profile case in London this week, in which three women, including a 57-year-old Irish woman, were removed by authorities from a house in the south of the city. The women were rescued from their situation on 25 October last, and are continuing to receive support from professionals at a ‘place of safety’.

Director of the MRCI Siobhán Donoghue says there’s an urgent need for further resources to be allocated for the investigation of forced labour and domestic servitude cases here, and for the provision of follow-up support for victims.

“We’re probably the main organisation working in this area, and we’ve been involved with 200 cases in the last six years, so its a fair conclusion that there’s an awful lot more out there,” Donoghue told TheJournal.ie.

She said that the 60-day recovery period, as mandated by the Council of Europe, was rarely applied in Ireland.

“Victims are likely to be traumatised and extremely vulnerable. They often need time to adjust and process what they have been through before they can participate in an investigation.

“Their health, security and wellbeing are paramount.”

“We need to put in a place of a system of supports and resources to ensure they aren’t re-traumatised during this period so they’re in the best position to be part of an investigation.

In terms of the organisations involvement with victims, she said that in the majority of cases, people in forced labour situations were identified by somebody else, like a neighbour or a work colleague

“We’ve had taxi men come to us, we’ve had the gardaí call us to say they’re concerned about somebody.

“It’s generally the case where the person at the centre of the situation doesn’t recognise themselves as being the victim of anything.

“They’re very often told that they are person who has done something wrong, and that they will be punished.”

In a small number of cases, victims have managed to escape under their own efforts, and have been put in contact with the Centre after approaching a member of the public for help.

Donoghue said that domestic work was the largest  sector they dealt with, and that the problem existed in all strata of Irish society “in semi-detached houses, housing estates and restaurants all over the country”.

The Centre is also concerned about workers in embassies, and in travelling circuses. Donoghue said there had been a “number of cases involving circus workers in recent years”.

In terms of what Ireland could learn from the approach of authorities in London, she said that that their handling of the case to date also highlighted the need for greater involvement of “trauma specialists” who could provide appropriate psychological support techniques.

Related: Irish Embassy in London look to establish details behind woman freed from slavery

Read: Irish woman made call that freed her from 30 years of slavery >

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