Protection from deportation among new measures to combat human trafficking

Government will also order a review of missing children cases to determine if they are linked to trafficking

Victims of human trafficking will be automatically protected from deportation under plans announced by the Government on Monday.

The provision is one of a broad range of measures contained in the Third National Action plan to Combat Human Trafficking.

A new system will be introduced making it easier for victims of human trafficking to come forward, while training is to be rolled out across various sectors on how to spot signs of trafficking. This will extend to staff in State agencies as well as workers in the hospitality, airline, shipping and security sectors who may encounter trafficked people.

Defence Forces personnel who may encounter instances of human trafficking while on overseas peacekeeping duty will also receive training.


Last year, the Garda formally identified 42 victims of human trafficking. Most had been trafficked into Ireland for sexual or labour exploitation. A 2021 report by Mary Immaculate College in Limerick suggested actual incidents of human trafficking may be 38 per cent higher than official figures.

In October, Ruhama, a charity which assists women impacted by prostitution, reported a 35 per cent increase in victims of human trafficking seeking its assistance.

Under the package of measures, those identified as victims or suspected victims of human trafficking will have any deportation measures against them suspended, “eliminating further trauma and increased risk of harm”.

Under a new national referral mechanism, victims of human trafficking will be able to come forward to a broad range of State agencies instead of just An Garda Síochána.

“This is in recognition of the fact that victims may, due to experiences in their own countries, not trust police services,” the Department said.

Speaking to reporters at Dublin Port on Monday at the launch of the strategy report, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said: “We all agree that we need to see more prosecutions for human trafficking - we’ve only had two and that has been in recent years.”

Ms McEntee said the Garda have faced challenges in gathering evidence and publicly highlighting the crime, but also in encouraging victims to come forward and tell their story.

“Their willingness or their ability to come forward as part of the prosecution team is very difficult. This plan, overall, the objective is to ensure that victims are comfortable coming forward, that they are safe, that they have the right support, and that there is trust within the system.”

The Department of Justice said a new national referral mechanism within the strategy will make it easier for victims to come forward and access support. The mechanism allows for trusted partners in the NGO sector, or for other state agencies, to make referrals when a concern emerges around a potential case of human trafficking.

Ms McEntee said the strategy would involve multiple State bodies and agencies, not just policing and security functions, but would draw from the Department of Health, the HSE, the Department of Social Protection and others.

Dedicated accommodation for victims will be established outside the direct provision system and existing employment procedures will be examined to help people exit exploitative situations and enter the legitimate workforce.

Children separated from their parents are particularly at risk of trafficking and better information is needed about migrant children who go missing from Tusla care, the Department of Justice said.

A review will take place of missing children to determine whether they are linked to trafficking.

Regarding sexual exploitation, “exit pathways” will be established to help trafficked women leave prostitution.

The Department said prostitution and human trafficking are “inextricably linked” and in any one year there are between 1,000 and 1,600 women engaged in sex work in Ireland.

The Department is also considering the introduction of “forced marriage protection orders” to prevent the smuggling of people for the purposes of marriage. These have been in existence in the UK since 1996 and allow a judge to prevent a marriage going ahead or to seize the passports of parties who may attempt to travel abroad to get married.

This can be done at very short notice following a request to the Family Court.

Ms McEntee added it was “extremely disappointing” that Ireland had been put on a watchlist for its efforts on human trafficking by the US State Department, which she said was solely because of a belief that significant numbers of people had been trafficked within the Irish fishing industry, which she said Ireland disputes. Ireland has been removed from the watchlist but remains on the second tier of the State Department’s assessments.

She said she hoped that the new strategy and training under it would put Ireland in the first tier of the assessment in the future. Further training will be made available to those who may come across those who may come into contact with victims of human trafficking to help them spot the signs.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times