Friday 20 October 2017

Distressed, alone and without a name – how did mystery girl get here?

Officers given permission to release photo, says Cormac McQuinn

Christmas alone: for some the loneliness is too much to bear.
Christmas alone: for some the loneliness is too much to bear.

EVERYTHING looked normal. Shoppers strolled along laden with bags, workers hurried along the pavement to their offices, and taxis and buses trundled through the capital's main thoroughfare.

But amid the bustle, was a solitary teenage girl.

Scores of people walked by, turning a blind eye to her obvious distress.

But one person did stop, noticing she was completely alone and in a "very distressed" state.

Possibly from Eastern Europe, the girl spoke only a few words of broken English and any attempts to comfort her and find out what was wrong, were met with little success.

Gardai from nearby Store Street were contacted and they in turn got in touch with the HSE, which arranged for the girl to be taken into care.

And then a disturbing picture began to emerge of the ordeal the teenager appears to have gone through.

It is feared that the girl – thought to be just 14 to 16 years old – is a victim of human traffickers.

More than three weeks after her discovery by the concerned passerby in the heart of Dublin, and after international appeals by the gardai for help determining her identity, the authorities still do not know who she is.

And questions are being raised as to why the HSE has not transferred her to secure accommodation after almost a month staying in a Dublin hospital, reportedly protected by armed gardai around the clock.

Last night, gardai were finally granted permission from High Court judge Mr Justice George Bermingham to take the unprecedented step of releasing a photograph of the girl to the media in the hope that someone can identify her.

The case saw the gardai at loggerheads with the HSE as the agency had opposed the move, claiming the release of a picture "may have a disturbing effect" on the girl.

MURKY

However, counsel for the gardai argued that the force had "hit a brick wall" and have exhausted efforts to identify her through other means.

They said that the "only option" remaining was to release a photograph.

That will now take place on Monday, with a garda spokesman saying that the photograph was being withheld over the weekend because "we have to put some structures in place (for the release)".

He added: "Also to get maximum coverage as well, Monday will be a better day."

In a separate court action, her state-appointed legal guardian has challenged a HSE plan to move the girl to what has been described as a non-secure facility in a rural area at the end of her hospital stay.

The legal guardian's counsel Felix McEnroy argued that she should be placed in a secure unit for her protection and produced a handwritten letter from the girl where she seeks the court's assistance.

The care aspect of the girl's case has been adjourned to next Thursday.

Senator Jillian Van Turnhout, the former chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance, said last night that she would have concerns about the HSE being able to provide secure and appropriate accommodation.

"For me this case illustrates the fact that it was two weeks after and they still had not found secure accommodation," she said. "We're not talking about 24 hours or 36 hours.

"We need to know that if a child is rescued that the HSE has, on hand and ready, secure and appropriate accommodation to support the needs of that child."

A spokeswoman for the HSE said it could not comment on the girl's case as the matter "is one of immense sensitivity and is currently the subject of High Court proceedings".

She denied that there was a wider shortage of secure accommodation saying that "most young people identified for special care gain a place within two weeks".

The HSE said that there were 17 places available in secure care at any one time and that plans were in place to expand this to 34 by 2015.

The case has put the spotlight on the murky world of human trafficking into Ireland.

Nusha Yonkova, anti-trafficking co-ordinator for the Immigrant Council of Ireland, pointed to Department of Justice figures which showed that more than 50 cases of children being smuggled into the country have been uncovered between 2009 and 2012.

She said that many of the children come from Eastern Europe and that "these countries constitute an unlimited pool of people because of the economic disparities that exist even within the European Union", adding that of the 23 cases last year, 19 of the children were trafficked for prostitution.

Ms Yonkova said: "We are not sure of the full extent of the problem ... but our view is one child, is one child too many."

Irish Independent

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