Ireland has been criticised for “major failings” in its treatment of human trafficking victims after the State was downgraded in a major annual US government report on the illegal trade in people.
The annual Trafficking in Persons Report, published today by the US Department of State, placed Ireland on its “tier two watch list”. Last year, the Republic was placed on the tier two list.
The report found that Ireland is making efforts, including increasing funding for NGOs and increasing prosecutions. “However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period”.
The lack of convictions for trafficking offences was noted, while an amended working scheme for sea fishermen “increased their vulnerability to trafficking”, the report stated, also flagging that Vietnamese and Chinese individuals convicted for cannabis cultivation often report indicators of forced labour such as document retention, restriction of movement and non-payment of wages.
Meanwhile, domestic workers, particularly au pairs, are “vulnerable to trafficking”.
"The government has reported the problem of forced labour in the country is growing. Women from Eastern Europe who are forced into marriage in Ireland are at risk for sex trafficking and forced labour."
It is the second time in three years that Ireland has been downgraded, being rated in the top tier until 2018.
In a statement, the Immigrant Council of Ireland said this means that “while making efforts, the Irish government is deemed not to meet the minimum standards required in the fight against human trafficking and will continue to be examined closely”.
Commenting on the report, Dr Nusha Yonkova, an anti-trafficking and gender expert with the council said trafficking for sexual exploitation in Ireland "remains pervasive, hidden and widely spread".
"This trend mirrors the situation in the other European countries and sadly, migrant women and girls are the largest cohort of victims," she said. According to the ICI, some 42 victims of trafficking were identified by the Irish Government so far this year, which the NGO says is a "misleadingly low figure".
The identified victims are from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and South America.
Brian Killoran, the chief executive of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said Ireland had received its lowest score to date in the report.
“This puts us among the worst three performing countries in Europe when it comes to our approach to the crime of trafficking in human beings,” he said.
“The report identified ‘systemic deficiencies in victim identification, referral and assistance’, and noted the ‘lack of specialised accommodation and adequate services’ for victims.”
Ruhama, which works with women affected by prostitution and sexual exploitation, also criticised "major gaps in Ireland's identification procedures and the protection of victims."
Chief executive, Barbara Condon, said many victims are too fearful of violent repercussions from their traffickers for them and their families to report them.
“Traffickers also instil a deep fear of authorities in their victims to prevent them from coming forward.”
She continued: “Suspected victims from the EEA, including Ireland, are not being counted in Ireland’s official numbers, and nor are those who are in the asylum process. This, coupled with the fact that the vast majority of trafficking victims remain undetected, means that we are underestimating the numbers of victims.”
“We must be under no illusions-sex trafficking is happening in every city, town and village across the country, and it is overwhelmingly women and girls who are sacrificed to fill the demand for sexual gratification from so-called ‘sex buyers’.”