Gardaí have smashed a modern slavery scam after a brave teenage victim rang the Romanian embassy in Dublin appealing for help.
Six teenagers were later taken into protective custody after a garda operation in Donegal and Monaghan. Five of the boys were found living in squalid conditions in Letterkenny.
A sixth boy was helped by gardaí in Monaghan.
It is understood four of the victims have since been reunited with their families in Romania.
All six teenagers were trafficked into Ireland by a gang involved in prostitution and drugs but which uses what appear to be legitimate businesses for money-laundering.
The teenagers worked in these businesses where they were forced to live together in cramped conditions.
They were not paid for their work, but given a daily food allowance of €5. The boys were working up to 16 hours a day.
"This is a very serious crime in relation to human tracking. It is a form of modern slavery," said Letterkenny-based Det Insp Pat O'Donnell.
"We expect to make arrests and are liaising with other agencies. Going forward and I would expect that the people responsible will be arrested."
He said that it was the first time he had come across the scam in Donegal.
"The boys were delighted when we arrived and took them into care," said the detective.
Detectives in other divisions of An Garda Síochána have been told of the incident.
It is understood the teenager who called his embassy did so because he couldn't speak English and didn't know who to contact.
Some of the boys had been working unpaid for up to 18 months. They would be dropped off at discount supermarkets each evening to buy food
It's understood the investigation has now widened into several Romanian gangs operating in the Border counties.
Edel McGinley from the Migrant Rights Centre in Dublin said her organisation believed forced labour was now widespread throughout the country.
"It is an unfortunate reality in many industries in our country right now," she said.
"This is another example of that reality and we hope all those involved recover from their ordeal here.
"We would be keen to offer help if we can."
She called for the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA) to be given more resources and more powers to help detect workers being held as 'slaves'.
Ms McGinley warned: "We have seen incidences of forced labour particularly among domestic workers and in the restaurant industry.
"I know in this case it was a different situation but we are also seeing people held as slaves in areas like the fishing industry and in illegal cannabis production. Often passports are withheld and the workers threatened and they can't see a way out."
Donegal TD Padraig Mac Lochlainn said: "We must be vigilant and report anything suspicious to gardaí."