A dedicated accommodation centre for victims of trafficking is expected to open this autumn, more than a year after the establishment of a specialised unit was confirmed by the Government.
The Department of Children and Equality said it will invite not-for-profit organisations to submit proposals on accommodation for trafficking victims in the coming weeks. In the meantime, victims will continue to be provided with temporary accommodation “in as appropriate a setting as possible”, it said.
The tender callout comes nearly 10 months after the Department of Justice and Equality confirmed the unit would be set up and run by Irish charities DePaul and Ruhama. While responsibility for policy around human trafficking still sits with justice officials, the Department of Children and Equality now oversees the accommodation of trafficking victims.
A department spokesman said the opening of the unit had been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the management of asylum seekers currently in the direct provision system and the opening of new own-door family centres.
While a proposal from DePaul to run the unit was originally accepted following exploratory talks, it was not signed off by senior justice officials, he said. Since then, the department of children decided to use a competitive process to find an NGO to run the centre, he added.
The spokesman said the unit would open on a trial basis catering for eight to 10 victims while its capacity would remain under review by justice officials, the HSE and a Garda Síochána. Bidders will be requested to have the centre established by this autumn, he added.
The provision of a dedicated unit was one of the key recommendations for Ireland in the 2020 Trafficking in Persons report published by the US State Department. Ireland was criticised in last year's report for "major failings" in its treatment of human trafficking victims and was downgraded to the tier two watch list, joining nations like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Department of Children amd Equality also committed in February to provide “specialist refuge accommodation” and “appropriate health and social care services” for trafficking victims in its White Paper to end direct provision.
Chief commissioner of the Human Rights and Equality Commission Sinéad Gibney urged the Government to ensure “gender specific accommodation with access to specialist services” be made available to those trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
She also echoed warnings from the UN and Council of Europe that accommodating trafficking victims in direct provision was “not appropriate”.
Mary Henderson, solicitor with the Immigrant Council of Ireland's Independent law centre, also underlined the need for staff in the centre to be fully trained in working with vulnerable people.
Under the EU’s anti-trafficking directive, the State must provide “appropriate and safe accommodation” along with “necessary medical treatment including psychological assistance”. However, the State has failed in this regard to date by not ensuring trafficking victims receive these supports, said Ms Henderson.
"The majority of our clients are women who have been exploited in prostitution, women who have been raped multiple times, who would have very difficult relationships with authorities. When they present to IPAS (International Protection Accommodation Service) they end up in shared accommodation in a room with a complete stranger,"she said.
“These people have very specific needs and sharing a room with a stranger when you’ve experienced sexual violence and exploitation is very difficult.”
Those who undergo vulnerability assessments, which are now being carried out after years of campaigning, often lose the counselling and psychological supports they require if they’re moved to a different centre, she added.
The Immigrant Council has previously warned that placing victims in shared accommodation could “undermine their recovery” and that the centres where they stay should be “gender-sensitive” with female victims accommodated in single sex facilities.