Tuesday 20 February 2018

Gardai rescue six teenagers from slavery gang

Six Romanian youngsters trafficked into Ireland freed after garda raids

Six Romanian youngsters trafficked into Ireland have been freed after garda raids
Six Romanian youngsters trafficked into Ireland have been freed after garda raids

Greg Harkin

Six Romanian teenagers were kept in virtual slavery in Donegal and Monaghan by an international criminal gang, gardai investigating one of Ireland's worst cases of human trafficking now believe.

Gardaí smashed the racket after a brave teenage victim telephoned the Romanian embassy in Dublin begging 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 gardai in Monaghan.

It is understood that 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 trafficking. 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

Det Insp O'Donnell added 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," he said.

Detectives in other divisions of An Garda Siochana 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 that the investigation has now widened into several Romanian gangs operating in the border counties.

Edel McGinley, from the Migrant Rights Centre in Dublin, said that 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."

Ms McGinley called for the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA) to be given more resources and more powers to help detect workers being held as 'slaves'.

"We have seen incidences of forced labour particularly among domestic workers and in the restaurant industry," Ms McGinley said.

"I know in this case that 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."

Speaking of the incident, Donegal TD Padraig Mac Lochlainn said: "We must be vigilant and report anything suspicious to gardaí."

Sunday Independent

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