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Dublin: 4 °C Wednesday 11 December, 2019
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'Slaves' kept and forced to work in Irish homes and restaurants

People are being held in conditions with parallels to those suffered by 24 men rescued in England, a charity has warned.

Police at the caravan site where five people were arrested over alleged slavery offences
Police at the caravan site where five people were arrested over alleged slavery offences
Image: Steve Parsons/PA Wire/Press Association Images

VULNERABLE PEOPLE ARE being held and forced to work in conditions of slavery across Ireland, a charity has warned after 24 men were found malnourished and living in filthy surroundings at a site in Bedfordshire in England.

The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland said it regularly comes across cases with parallels to the Bedfordshire rescue, where the men were reportedly forced to work, housed in dog kennels and sheds, and had their heads forcibly shaved. The 24 victims were threatened with violence if they tried to escape – a situation which MRCI spokesperson Delphine O’Keeffe said is being replicated in Ireland.

Ms O’Keeffe told TheJournal.ie: “We’re encountering forced labour cases on an ongoing basis in the centre. So far this year, we have seen at least five. Over the last six years, there have been at least 150 cases.”

According to the MRCI, typical hallmarks of forced labour include people being attacked or threatened with violence, having their identity documents confiscated, and being confined to the workplace at all times. However, Ms O’Keeffe said the situation could be much more subtle than the squalid conditions in Bedfordshire.

We see it in the restaurant sector, we see it in domestic work. They’re two sectors which stand out. And it’s not nationality specific; employers have been Irish as well as foreign nationals.

The MRCI is now calling for the Government to introduce new legislation to aid people being held in forced labour, saying that if there is no direct evidence of human trafficking then current legislation is inadequate. “There is no system in place to tackle it specifically,” Ms O’Keeffe said.

She said that forced labour should be specifically criminalised, and measures introduced to protect workers who come forward to report situations of virtual slavery. “People are not going to come forward if there are no supports for them,” she said.

According to the Irish Examiner, the Department of Justice is considering the criminalisation of forced labour as a specific offence.

Four men were yesterday charged with slavery offences after the raid on a UK Traveller site, and will appear in court again today. A fifth person, a woman who is reportedly in the late stages of pregnancy, is expected to be questioned further after the birth of her child.

Read more: Four charged over alleged slavery on UK traveller site>

Read more: Five arrested after men found in shocking conditions>

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Michael Freeman

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