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Column We have glimpsed the human misery which fills the pockets of Europe’s pimps and traffickers

We cannot pretend trafficking does not exist. Today experts from across the EU will meet for discussions in Dublin to support victims and bring the organised gangs to justice, writes Denise Charlton.

THE REALITY OF trafficking for sex was brought home to us all this week, with a court hearing how women were trafficked through Dublin Airport to be forced to have sex with men in Northern Ireland.

The victims who did not speak English were told if they did not comply there would be no return flight home to the Czech Republic. Pictures from their brothel show rolls of cash, all destined for the pockets of the crime lords.

Their account gives us a glimpse of the human misery which lies at the heart of a crime which fills the pockets of Europe’s pimps and traffickers with €25 billion a year.

The method of the criminals is simple, bring women and girls to Ireland under false promises of a new life, a good job or even marriage only to swipe their travel documents and cash in the arrivals hall of Dublin Airport and in some cases within hours subject them to sexual abuse.

There is no escape, victims are lost in a foreign country where language barriers, fear and a loss of identity papers mean they cannot cry for help.

EU experts discuss how to help victims

Today the Immigrant Council of Ireland joins experts from across the EU for discussions in Dublin to support victims and bring the organised gangs which have built a criminal network – stretching from Galway to Gdansk – to justice.

As a country, our record in this area is not one to be proud of: Ireland is not meeting all  the terms of international conventions to combating human trafficking.

These failures represent a danger to men, women and children while at the same time allowing criminal thugs to take full advantage of out-dated laws and a lack of inter-agency cooperation.

There are urgent points to be addressed.

Despite the fact that 48 trafficking victims were discovered here over a 12-month period, our system of identifying victims is not good enough with people slipping through the net to never be found.

Identification remains the preserve of the Gardaí leaving those found facing questions over visas, permits and residency status instead of being formally identified and protected as potential important witnesses.

Those supports which are offered are inadequate. There is no proper, safe and secure accommodation. Women and children who have been sexually exploited and abused are held in mixed centres where they are not only open to further abuse and but also live in fear that the traffickers will find them again.

The Balseskin Reception Centre in Dublin is used for most victims, its conditions and facilities have been condemned as inadequate by the Council of Europe.

Targeting the demand for trafficking

Today’s discussions will involve National Rapporteur’s on Trafficking from several European Countries, their role is to ensure that a joined up, co-ordinated approach to this crime. Ireland does not have such a post.

Not having an Anti-Trafficking Tsar is a major failing. We need an expert to not only to ensure that we adopt best practice but also to be a voice for people who have been abused, exploited and subjected to violence.

As a member of the Turn Off the Red Light Campaign we believe that targeting the demand for trafficking, in Ireland’s case the buyers of sex, would put many pimps out of business.

We know this has worked in Sweden, Iceland and Norway. The French National Assembly is about to vote on similar laws, while debates have also begun in Germany, Finland and Northern Ireland. With so many countries preparing to act Ireland is running a serious risk of being a safe haven for traffickers.

It is now six months since the Oireachtas Justice Committee unanimously recommended laws here, but no action has been taken by the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, TD.

Too often the debate becomes clouded

Too often the debate around the issue of trafficking becomes clouded, calls for reform are met by questions about administration, legal issues, even the rights of abusers.

It is easy for Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his Government to become bogged down in these administrative points, but the facts speak for themselves. Almost half of all trafficking victims in Ireland are children, most are sexually exploited, 19 children were found in Irish ‘commercial’ sex in 2012.

Our failure to act is throwing people to the wolves, destined to life spent in pop-up brothels in our apartment complexes, hotels, above our bars and chip shops or even in houses rented for short periods on our estates.

We cannot pretend trafficking does not exist.

We owe it to the victims to let no obstacle stand in the way to a robust response to a multi-billion euro crime.

Denise Charlton is Chief Executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, one of the founding organisations of the Turn Off the Red Light Campaign.

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