Victims of human trafficking are unlikely to be identified in Ireland due to inadequacies in the State’s response to the issue, according to a damning report by Ireland’s human rights watchdog.
Official figures say 38 people were trafficked into Ireland last year for sexual, labour or forced criminality exploitation.
But the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has warned the data is likely to underestimate the scale of the issue due to limitations in the system used to identify victims.
The watchdog, which is Ireland’s rapporteur for human trafficking, has called for the urgent implementation of a national referral mechanism approved by the Cabinet last May. This is a system which would allow for the sharing of information about potential victims, helping them to be identified, and facilitating access to advice, accommodation and support.
The report, which has been submitted to the Council of Europe, is being published today to mark the EU’s annual Anti-Trafficking Day.
Ireland’s record on people trafficking has been the subject of criticism in recent years and the country is one of only two in the EU – the other being Romania – to be designated by the US State Department as a “tier two” nation for action on trafficking.
It downgraded Ireland from “tier one” status in 2020 due to a failure to meet “the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking”.
A key issue is that there has been only one successful prosecution for people trafficking since the law was amended in 2013. The IHREC report said that while there had been some positive progress, trafficking victims “remain unlikely to be identified, cut off from supports, and often left open to further abuses”.
It called for the housing of trafficking victims in gender-specific accommodation with immediate access to support services, not within direct provision accommodation.
IHREC also said better data on trafficking was needed for it to effectively carry out its rapporteur role. The report said people trafficking in Ireland remained a hidden but pervasive crime.
According to official figures, 26 people were found to have been trafficked for sexual exploitation last year, two for forced criminality and 10 for labour exploitation.
Sexual exploitation has been yielding a steady stream of suspected trafficking cases over the years, and the report said this appeared to have been “resilient” to the pandemic.
Trafficking for labour exploitation was subject to notable, sporadic surges linked to the operations of various production and service sectors, IHREC said.
Its report recommended a stepping up of efforts to identify trafficked people forced into labour in high-risk sectors, such as through a proactive labour inspection programme.
Forced criminal activities have become a steady feature of the criminal landscape, the report said, with these being primarily Asian nationals trafficked for the purpose of cannabis production.
It called for the “non-punishment principle” to be adopted on a statutory basis so victims would not be prosecuted for illegal conduct they committed as a result of being trafficked.
At present, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) guidelines say prosecutors should consider whether the public interest is served by a prosecution of a suspect in such cases.