Trafficking in Northern Ireland: Call for stronger response

  • New report: UK anti-trafficking measures ‘not fit for purpose’ and breach international law - new report
  • Response to trafficking in Northern Ireland must take account of Northern Ireland structures
  • Need for All Northern Ireland Human Trafficking Group to establish integrated approach to victim support
  • Public Prosecution Service must issue guidance on human trafficking for all prosecutors in Northern Ireland

Campaigners in Northern Ireland will launch a new report on trafficking today showing that the UK Government’s new anti-trafficking measures are “not fit for purpose” and the UK Government is breaching its obligations under the European Convention against Trafficking (1). They will also call on the Northern Ireland Executive to take a stronger lead to tackle trafficking and ensure that victims are protected.

The report, the first major study of the government’s anti-trafficking measures since they launched 14 months ago, found that the government’s flagship “National Referral Mechanism” is “flawed” and possibly discriminatory, and operated by “minimally-trained” UK Border Agency staff who “put more emphasis on the immigration status of the presumed trafficked persons, rather than the alleged crime against them”.

The 167-page report, “Wrong kind of victim?” by the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, a coalition including Anti-Slavery International, Amnesty International UK and ECPAT (2), reviewed 390 individual cases, as well as data from the UK Human Trafficking Centre and figures obtained from freedom of information requests. It found marked disparities in the successful identification of trafficking victims, leading to fears that officials are overly concerned with immigration issues rather than assisting the victims of traumatic crimes, including sexual exploitation and forced labour.

Campaigners say there is clear evidence that criminals are even controlling their victims by warning that they will be seen as “illegal immigrants” not victims, and would be subject to detention and removed from the country or even imprisoned.

The report’s authors visited Northern Ireland in November 2009 when they conducted extensive research. In April 2010 the PSNI confirmed to the Anti Trafficking Monitoring Group that between 1 April 2009 and 1 April 2010 a total of 25 people had been identified as presumed trafficked persons. Given that this has not resulted in a corresponding number of convictions, the authors recommend that the Public Prosecution Service should provide guidance on human trafficking for all prosecutors in Northern Ireland in order to improve the level of convictions here. It should also provide guidance on the non-criminalisation of trafficked persons who may have committed offences during their trafficking.

The researchers found that though the Northern Ireland Executive and Northern Ireland Office had informed departments about the National Referral Mechanism, the fact that no formal information campaign has taken place means that there was a significant problem with a lack of awareness and poor implementation of the identification process, and they call on the Northern Ireland Executive to deliver a localised Northern Ireland National Referral Mechanism to ensure better decision making at a local level in Northern Ireland and in accordance with their obligations under the Convention.

Patricia Campbell, Campaigner for Amnesty International Northern Ireland said:

'It Is clear that the process set in train after the UK Government signed up to the anti-trafficking convention has not worked in practice in Northern Ireland, and few of those working on the frontline are adequately trained to deal with this horrendous crime.

'The identification system is clearly not fit for purpose, and we need the Assembly Government to take a strong lead in this area in order to establish an All Northern Ireland Human Trafficking Group, bringing together devolved and non-devolved departments, the PSNI, Health and Social Care Trusts and all other relevant statutory and non statutory agencies to establish an integrated approach to trafficking and thus adequately safeguard people at risk in Northern Ireland.'

Patricia Campbell continued:

'There has been some progress in Northern Ireland since we began campaigning in order to protect victims of trafficking in Northern Ireland, but this report indicates that we have not yet delivered a system which serves victims in Northern Ireland.

'We need a new system guided by the proper understanding and implementation of the European Convention Against Trafficking. Only then will it be possible to treat trafficking victims compassionately and properly prosecute the serious criminals behind this human rights abuse.'

  • Read the full report: 'Wrong kind of victim?' (PDF)
  • Find out more about trafficking in the UK /li>

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