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Ireland ranked worst in western Europe for tackling human trafficking for second year

Ireland is the only country in western Europe in this watchlist.

Updated Jul 2nd 2021, 7:00 AM

Snag_22fc823 Source: US State Department

THE UNITED STATES has said Ireland is not meeting the minimum standards on combatting human trafficking, ranking Ireland as one of the weakest EU states alongside Romania and Belarus. 

The Trafficking in Persons Report 2021, published by the US Department of State, ranks countries around the world based on their government’s efforts to combat trafficking as measured against minimum standards and compared to its efforts in the year prior.

These efforts include awareness raising and reaffirming its commitment to enacting anti-trafficking legislation.

The report says Ireland doesn’t fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so. 

The US State Department downgraded several countries and upgraded others for their efforts to combat the scourge of human trafficking, however, Ireland remains on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year. Ireland is the only country in western Europe in this watchlist.

Ireland was ranked in tier one until 2018 when it was reduced to tier two. It was reduced further to the tier two watchlist last year.

Reacting to Ireland’s ranking, Minister of State for Criminal and Civil Justice Hildegarde Naughton said she was disappointed the work of the Department of Justice over the last year had not merited an upgrade in the country’s ranking.

“We would of course like to be further along in advancing some of the improvements we are making in this area, but it is fair to say that despite the challenges posed by the pandemic in 2020 and the first half of 2021 we have advanced a number of these reforms and this is something that is unfortunately not reflected in the report,” said Naughton. 

The report acknowledged some of Ireland’s recent efforts such as the designation of an independent human trafficking national rapporteur and the establishment a formal national anti-trafficking forum.

However, it said the Irish government had not demonstrated an overall increase in efforts compared to the previous reporting period, “even considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity”. 

“While courts convicted one trafficker under false imprisonment charges, the government has not obtained a trafficking conviction under the anti-trafficking law since it was amended in 2013, which weakened deterrence, contributed to impunity for traffickers, and undermined efforts to support victims to testify,” the report said. 

“The government investigated and prosecuted fewer suspected traffickers, did not prosecute any labor traffickers, and victim identification decreased for the fourth year in a row. 

“The government continued to have systemic deficiencies in victim identification, referral, and assistance, and lacked specialized accommodation and adequate services for victims.”

The report also noted concerns regarding the Irish government’s inability to identify trafficking victims due to shortcomings in its identification mechanism and limiting identification of victims solely to police.

‘Human suffering’

Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Sinéad Gibney said while there have been some recent positive commitments by the State that will make headway in addressing crucial gaps for the protection of victims, “the plans are at proposal stage and not a reality for victims of trafficking in Ireland today”.

“The gaps and failings in treatment and protection of victims of trafficking that led Ireland to be positioned at Tier 2 status 12 months ago remain largely outstanding. Most of the major issues, such as those pertaining to victim identification, protection and non-prosecution, are yet to be addressed,” said Gibney.

Ireland’s second year on the ‘watchlist’ must act as a serious wake-up call for the State to act more decisively in combatting trafficking.

“While there have been some positive efforts, including appointment of the Commission as rapporteur, and in recent weeks the first trafficking conviction since 2013, the reality today is that Ireland continues to fall below minimum standards compared to other developed nations.”

The State Department report said the Covid-19 pandemic had “generated conditions that increased the number of people who experienced vulnerabilities to human trafficking and interrupted existing and planned anti-trafficking interventions.”

“Governments across the world diverted resources toward the pandemic, ofen at the expense of anti-trafficking efforts,” it said.

“At the same time, human traffickers quickly adapted to capitalise on the vulnerabilities exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic,” the report added.

Six countries were downgraded from Tier 1 – the highest ranking – to Tier 2: Cyprus, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal and Switzerland.

Tier 2 countries do not “fully meet” the TVPA’s minimum standards “but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance.”

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Two nations – Guinea-Bissau and Malaysia – were added to the Tier 3 list of worst offenders, a list that already included Afghanistan, Algeria, China, the Comoros, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan and Venezuela.

The governments of 11 of those Tier 3 nations were found to have a “policy or pattern” of state-sponsored human trafficking in government-funded programs.

Four countries – Belarus, Burundi, Lesotho and Papua New Guinea – were removed from Tier 3 and placed on the Tier 2 watch list alongside Ireland. 

Releasing the annual report, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said nearly 25 million people worldwide are estimated to be victims of human trafficking.

“Many are compelled into commercial sex work,” Blinken said. “Many are forced to work in factories or fields or to join armed groups. “It’s a global crisis,” he said.

“It’s an enormous source of human suffering.

“Governments should protect and serve their citizens, not terrorize and subjugate them for profit.”

The United States may restrict foreign assistance to Tier 3 nations subject to presidential approval. Turkey, a NATO member, was cited for violations of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act for the use of child soldiers by Turkish-backed groups in Syria and Libya.

“The United States hopes to work with Turkey to encourage all groups involved in the Syrian and Libyan conflicts not to use child soldiers,” a senior State Department official said.

- Additional reporting from AFP

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Adam Daly

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