The "migration habits" of many Roma people and the problem in the community internationally of organised theft and begging gangs made them susceptible to human trafficking for exploitation purposes, a senior Irish Interpol officer has said.
Assistant director of Interpol's human trafficking and child exploitation section Michael Moran insisted the community had acknowledged the issues and was working to improve the situation. He added policing internationally must be grounded in human rights and make no ethnicity-based assumptions.
“It’s very important that when we talk about any individual grouping, be it the Roma or anybody else... that we don’t target any particular group just because of who they are,” he said.
“Yes, there is a problem with human trafficking within the Roma community. But it’s a problem that the Roma community themselves have acknowledged. And they work... to try and deal with these issues.”
“By their very nature, the migration habits of the Roma people, which have been in existence since time immemorial; those migration habits are susceptible to trafficking, [AS WELL AS]the fact that there is within their community the problem of organised street gangs, child street gangs, theft gangs, organised begging, forced marriages, child marriages within their community.
“There have been some very high profile cases down the years within that community. But again, I stress to make it clear; while it exists in the Roma community it also exists in other communities within our society.”
Mr Moran was speaking on RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland programme. He made his comments following two cases in Ireland this week where Roma children - a girl aged seven and a two-year-old boy - were removed from their homes by the Garda and placed into HSE care after doubts arose as to their parentage.
The children were returned with their families after it emerged the couples claiming to be their biological parents were found to be telling the truth.
There has been a high profile case in Greece since last week where DNA tests proved a Roma couple claiming to be the biological parents of a young girl living as their child were found to be lying. They have since been charged in the courts.
While Mr Moran was speaking in the wake of those cases, his comments did not relate directly to any of the three cases.
Formerly a detective sergeant with the Garda, the Co Meath man was seconded to Interpol in 2006 and has worked with the agency based in Lyons, France, since then.
He said he believed there was a general lack of awareness about some of the issues that existed within the Roma community and also other ethnic groups.
His unit was working to raise that awareness, especially among law enforcement agencies, with a view to police officers across Europe being better able to identify the signs that a child had been trafficked and was being exploited.
It was “very hard to put a number on” the extent of child trafficking. “The reality is, from a policing perspective, when we carry out investigations and bring them before the courts, there is no doubt that this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s out there. There have been a number of cases over the past few years in terms of child trafficking - illegal adoptions, organised theft gangs, organised begging gangs.”
He added the extent of proven trafficking in any one place or among any one culture often reflected the resources put in to combating it, rather than reflecting the true extent of the problem in those places and communities.
His office had a role in sharing information with international police forces that suggested cases of exploitation or children being at risk in their territories. It also had a role in committing manpower and expertise “on the ground” when investigations were established on the basis of specific suspicions or evidence coming to light.
It often created specialist groups in which police officers could come together to mount operations aimed at gangs trafficking and exploiting children.
“We would also be quite involved in awareness raising and capacity building,” he said of his office’s work with international police forces.
“As well as organising operations within poorer and developing countries, and trying to bring law enforcement up to speed and to (define) ‘what is trafficking’ and how to deal with it, and to implement the law that exists in most countries.
“On a daily basis, law enforcement officers, social workers, people like that are working to ensure that children are safe. This is a long and hard road we’ve had over the last 30 years to accept and acknowledge that child sexual abuse, child abduction, illegal adoptions, forced marriages, child marriages; all those types of issues exist within our society,” said Mr Moran.
“The only way to deal with them is to shine a light on them and it’s been refreshing over the last couple of days, there have been a number of cases where reports are coming in from members of the public; that in itself is very refreshing to see.
“And it shows by shining a light on it, by making people aware that child sexual abuse, all of these issues, existing in our society and people are willing to report it.”